Serbian Prosecutor's announcement that there is an ongoing investigation against unnamed journalists and editors suspected of encouraging war crimes caused different reactions amongst media professionals in Serbia.
In his letter to the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, IAJS, sent last week, the Serbian Chief Prosecutor for War Crimes, Vladimir Vukcevic, said that prosecuting those who spewed propaganda is not against free speech.
Vukcevic says that on the basis of material gathered so far, and the criminal charges filed by IAJS in 2009, it has been established that there are grounds for investigation.
The prosecution is however aware that this process might be seen as the “persecution of journalist” and “an attempt of limiting freedom of media”.
“The aim of the prosecution is not to limit the freedom of media but to persecute all of those who abused their right to inform the citizens properly and therefore harmed the civilians during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia,” said Vukcevic.
“Propaganda in the media under the rule of Milosevic was common and undermined the dignity of the enemy and dehumanised it,” he added.
He stressed that media propaganda during the 1990s was just a prelude to war.
Vukasin Obradovic, head of the IAJS, which filed initials charges against their colleagues, says it is crucial to establish not just who where the perpetrators but also what constitutes warmongering journalism.
“I think the consequences of this approach are present even today and this affects our daily work,” Obradovic said.
But Ljiljana Smajilovic, Head of the Association of Serbian Journalists argues that the approach of the Prosecutor’s Office is not efficient and it harms journalists.
“The prosecution is again going into hunt for journalists. They need to tell us the exact case in which journalist by its reporting provoked a war crime and not to speak in general terms as they did,” Smajilovic said.
Ljiljana Djordjevic, former journalist says that this is not the first time that the prosecution is announcing investigation into media role in the war during the 1990s.
“We heard this announcement before, but let us hope that now some criminal charges will be filed. This is not important just because of our society, but also because of the region where media had similar role as here and that is to spread hate,” said Djordjevic.
The initial investigation was opened in June in 2009 after the Serbian Independent Association of Journalists filed a claim against media outlets which the association accused of using hate speech in their reports during the wars.
The claim was made against state TV and radio, RTS, and dailies Politika and Vecernje Novosti.
In November 2011, the prosecution published a book “Words and Misdeeds” which draw a picture of the media in Serbia in the 1990s, where they presented the results of the on- going investigation, but then claiming that there are still no enough evidences for the charges.
This investigation is the first probe initiated by war crimes prosecutors in the entire region that looks into the role of the media during the war.