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News 19 Feb 15

EU Still 'Committed to Balkan Media Freedom'

A Commission spokesperson has reiterated Brussels' commitment to upholding media freedom in the Balkans following a furore over statements by Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Gordana Andric
BIRN
Belgrade

 

“The Commission has repeatedly expressed its serious concerns about deteriorating conditions regarding the freedom of expression and media in Serbia, including in the recent progress report and strategy paper,” Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the Commission for neighbourhood policy and enlargement, wrote in a statement on Wednesday.

It follows criticism of Johannes Hahn's statement that allegations of media censorship in Serbia need to be supported before Brussels will react.

Kocijancic said Hahn's words may have been misinterpreted. “Commissioner Hahn continuously underlines the critical importance of media freedoms as non-negotiable fundamental rights, and as key conditions for progress on our partner countries' EU path," she said.

“He has discussed these matters with the Serbian authorities at various occasions, in an open, respectful and constructive way, and will continue to do so.

“His reference to the 'need for evidence' referred exactly to this need for an open, democratic, factual and serene discussion among all stakeholders, based on the rule of law. It should in no way be construed as a change of policy,” Kocijancic explained.

Several organisations, including BIRN and Reporters without borders, said Hahn's statement had sent the wrong message.

The European Federation of Journalists, EFJ, told Hahn on February 19 that “media censorship is a reality in Serbia”.

In a letter sent to the Commissioner, the EFJ expressed concerns over an apparent lack of awareness of media violations in Serbia among EU institutions and policy-makers.

“The alarming state of media freedom in Serbia is not a rumour but the reality. Journalists in Serbia are in a constant battle fighting for their fundamental rights to freedom of expression," Mogens Blicher Bjerregard, the EFJ President, said.

“The European Commission should retain its independence and set out standards in the European Union on fundamental rights when negotiating membership with candidate countries. These rights are the pillars of Europe’s democracy and they should not be compromised,” he added.

Ivan Tasovac, the Serbian Culture Minister, meanwhile denied allegations that media freedom in Serbia was under threat.

The European Commission had recognized the improvements made in Serbia to media laws and Serbia's “noticeable progress” in this field, he said.

He stated that the new laws ensured transparency of media ownership as well as transparency in the distribution of state funds toward the media.

As of July 1, the state would no longer be a media owner, while the ministry was preparing a law to regulate advertising, often mentioned in Serbia as a form of influence on the media, he noted.

Critics of the situation were often “more interested in esoteric conditions in which things are invisible, non-transparent, but easily verifiable,” Tasovac said, calling on BIRN and other journalistic organisations in Serbia to get their facts straight.

 

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