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News 05 Oct 17

New Media Freedom Campaign Launched in Serbia

Serbian media outlets and NGOs that recently blacked out websites or went off air in protest against what they see as assaults on media freedom are meeting in Belgrade on Thursday to chart a new campaign.

Maja Zivanovic
Message shared by media and NGOs.

Serbian journalists and activists who protested recently over what they called the worsening situation of the free media will meet in Belgrade on Thursday to coordinate a new campaign in defence of media freedom in the country.

The official Facebook group “For Media Freedom” said all the participants at the meeting will sign a "Freedom of the Media Declaration".  

The group called on journalists, editors, activists and citizens on Wednesday to share their video in which, under the hashtag #WhyAmIHere, they explain their reasons for joining a fight for media freedom in Serbia.

Campaign organisers also shared a censored invitation to the event, in which several parts are blanked out, alluding to the alleged de facto censorship of the media.

The gathering follows a protest in which 182 of them temporarily blacked out their websites or went off air on September 28.

“We want to warn the public that freedom of media in our country is running out of breath, and we want to fight together to save it,” a joint press release of the participating organisations, including BIRN, said.

Media outlets blacked their websites for one hour carrying the simple message: “This is how it looks without a free media,” Supporting print media published a black page.

The protest followed a incident on September 18 when the party of Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin called the editor of the Serbia’s Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, KRIK, Stevan Dojcinovic, a “drug addict”.

This was in apparent retaliation for his published investigation into the minister's questionable real estate purchases.

Soon after, Vukasin Obradovic, the founder of the liberal Vranjske novine and former head of the Serbian journalists’ association, went on hunger strike in protest over his title’s closure and what he called the decline in media freedom in the country.

The “For Media Freedom” group, which will meet on Thursday, already has the support of more than 200 media groups and NGOs.

The meeting will be also live streamed via Facebook, while all supporters should use #ZastoSamOvde #ZaSloboduMedija #StojimUzVranjske hashtags.

A decline in media freedom in Serbia has been noted by numerous international institutions and watchdogs.

A progress report published by the European Commission in November 2016 noted that Serbia's government had made no real progress, and had only carried out “some level of preparation”, in terms of supporting freedom of expression.

“The overall environment [in Serbia] is not conducive to the full exercise of this right [to media freedom],” the report stated, adding that threats, violence and intimidation against journalists were some of the issues of concern.

The watchdog rights organisation Freedom House in its latest report said that Prime Minister, now President, Aleksandar Vucic and media outlets aligned with him had escalated a drive to portray all investigative and critical media organizations as foreign-backed propagandists seeking to damage the government and destabilize the country.

“Self-censorship was a worsening phenomenon that journalists attributed to concerns about both harassment and economic pressure,” the report for 2015, published last year, said.

It said too many journalists in Serbia face both verbal threats and physical attacks. “Some of the most visible pressure on the media came from [then] Prime Minister Vucic and his allies, who continued to verbally harass critical journalists and outlets,” it said.

The UN Human Rights Committee has also expressed concern about Serbian officials publicly vilifying and intimidating media professionals and about the prosecution of journalists and civil society actors for expressing their opinions.

The Serbian state should refrain from prosecuting journalists and human rights activists, take steps to protect people in the media from intimidation and punish the perpetrators of such offences, the report, published in March, said.

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