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News 19 Jul 16

Serbian Ruling Party Makes Exhibition of ‘Media Lies’

Serbia's ruling Progressive Party organised an unusual exhibition of press articles to back its claim that the media is free to lie about the government and that there is no official censorship.

Milivoje Pantovic, Dusica Tomovic
Belgrade, Podgorica
Government and Progressive Party officials at the exhibition opening. Photo: BIRN/Milivoje Pantovic.

The Progressive Party opened the new exhibition, entitled ‘Uncensored Lies’, at a Belgrade gallery on Monday, saying it wanted to document wrongful attacks on the government it leads, not to target journalists that are critical of it.

“There is pluralism on the media scene despite the attacks on the government saying that it is exerting pressure on the media,” Vladanka Malovic, a member of the Progressive Party’s presidency, said at the opening. 

She said that the exhibition contained 2,523 examples negative media contents about the government and Prime Minister-designate Aleksandar Vucic.

Most of the articles on display were from the weekly magazines NIN and Vreme, BIRN and television station N1, but there was also material from comedy shows as ‘24 Minutes’, which is hosted by satirist Zoran Kesic, who was recently accused of being a ‘traitor by pro-government media. 

The organisers also exhibited articles and caricatures from the newspaper Politika, which is half owned by the state, tweets criticising the government,statements by members of regulatory bodies and quotes by foreign media watchdogs accusing the government of censorship.

Articles on display at the exhibition. Photo: BIRN/Milivoje Pantovic.

The president of Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, Vukasin Obradovic, said the exhibition showed that the Progressive Party does not understand what freedom of the media is.

“Making this kind of mass 'wanted' list, with all the media that are critical of the prime minister, is anti-democratic,” Obradovic told BIRN.

He accused the government of creating an atmosphere of hate towards journalists, in which critical media are labelled enemies of the state.

The chairperson of parliament, interior minister and mayor of Belgrade at the exhibition. Photo: BIRN/Milivoje Pantovic.

Senior Progressive Party officials who attended the opening included Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, former Defence Minister Bratislav Gasic, Mayor of Belgrade Sinisa Mali and chair of parliament Maja Gojkovic.

A similar exhibition was organised in Montenegro in 2013, by controversial former Serbian politician Vladimir Popovic Baba.

Popovic's Institute for Public Policy, an NGO Popovic formed both in Serbia and Montenegro in 2013, organided an exhibition called ‘Word, Picture, Enemy’, which drew harsh reactions from the civil sector and media watchdogs.

As in Serbia, the front pages of independent media which criticised Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic were exhibited in the capital Podgorica and in the town of Berane.

The articles, mostly from the newspapers Dan, Vijesti and Monitor, reporting on cases of fraud and other wrongdoing by the Montenegrin authorities, were shown as examples of a ‘bad press’.

While the organisers said they wanted to trigger a "public debate on issues of media freedom, human rights, ethics and standards in journalism", Popovic's NGO was accused of intimidation.

Independent media were not invited to the exhibition. Later it was revealed that the Montenegrin government financially supported it.

Popovic was the former information chief for the Serbian government and critics allege that he acts as an informal media adviser to Montenegrin Prime Minister Djukanovic and to Serbian premier Vucic - and has been behind media attacks on the opponents of both leaders.

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