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News 17 Feb 15

Hahn Demands Proof of Serbia Media Censorship

Johannes Hahn, the EU Regional Policy Commissioner, stated that although he is aware of allegations of media censorship in Serbia, such claims need to be supported before Brussels will react.

BIRN
Belgrade

 

Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian PM, and Johannes Hahn in Brussels, February 9. | Photo by Etienne Ansotte/European Commission

Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, said in Brussels on Monday that the EU could not react to claims about violations of press freedom in Serbia without seeing concrete evidence.

“I have heard this several times [concerns about media freedom] and I am asking always about proof. I am willing to follow up such reproaches, but I need evidence and not only rumours,” Hahn told journalists.

Asked about the recent report by Reporters Without Borders on the media situation in Serbia, Hahn said the criteria used for such assessments needed to be checked.

He added that he would look into how Reporters Without Borders came to the assessment it had made.

“If there is proof and evidence [of press freedom violations], I will be the first to follow it up,” Hahn stated.

The new World Press Freedom Index, surveying the state of media freedom in 2014, ranked Serbia in 67th position, a fall from the 54th place it had one year ago.

The report is the annual report on media freedom published by Reporters Without Borders, a France-based non-profit, non-governmental organisation that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press.

In Serbia, Dragan Janjic, from the Independent Association of Journalists in Serbia, NUNS, said the report describing worrying trends in the Serbian media reflected the experiences of members of NUNS.

“Our conclusions are different from those of Mr Hahns. We make our assessments on media freedom based on the insight we receive from journalists,” Janjic told BIRN.

According to a survey published by another union, the Serbian Journalists Association, UNS, in December, about 40 per cent of journalists reported being occasionally subjected to censorship.

The survey of 585 journalists also revealed that about 48 per cent of them believe their colleagues occasionally self-censor their work.

More than 90 per cent of journalists who took part in a survey published by Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung last September said both censorship and self-censorship in the Serbian media exist.

The great majority of journalists, 73 per cent, said the Serbian media do not report objectively, and 95 per cent of journalists believe that reporting is rarely critical.

The EU criticised the Serbian government on January 10, when Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian Prime Minister, said a report by BIRN on the dewatering of the Tamnava mine was the work of “liars” paid by Brussels to undermine his government.

Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the European Commission for neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations, said Brussels was “very much surprised by the recent claims by Serbian PM Vucic that the EU is paying individual organisations to wage a campaign against the Serbian government.

“The EU expects the Serbian authorities to ensure an environment supporting freedom of expression and of media. Media criticism (such as that of BIRN) is essential to ensure the proper accountability of elected governments," she said.

"Governments should in turn be ready to act on such criticism in a constructive and transparent fashion, rather than trying to stifle it,” she added.

The Serbian leader then accused Kocijancic of trying to muzzle him.

On February 9, Vucic and Hahn met in Brussels ahead of Vucic's meeting with Kosovo officials. Following the meeting, both Hahn and Vucic stated that they had overcome any disagreements.

On Monday, meanwhile, Hahn praised the agreement that Kosovo and Serbia had reached on the working of the courts in Serbian parts of Kosovo.

He also welcomed Serbian Prime Minister Vucic's decision to attend the inauguration of the new Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar Kitanovic, in Zagreb.

 

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