European Parliament Rapporteur Vladimir Bilcik MEP told N1 that the European Union is waiting to see concrete steps in terms of Serbia’s commitment to a European future.
“It’s very clear. Serbia has committed to European future, European integration. The new Serbian Government has underlined its commitment, and we are waiting for concrete steps and at the moment when we have Russia’s attack against Ukraine, when we are facing a war back in Europe, we are expecting all accession countries to work with us,” he said.
He warned that the Serbian authorities’ decision to allow the launch of Russia Today, which he said is a disinformation platform, is “completely contrary, not only to Serbia’s commitment to align with the external policy of the EU, to align with our support for Ukraine, which has been attacked by Russia, but also it’s completely contrary to the commitment to the basic principles of rule of law, democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms for all, because an important part of that is free media, free and independent media”.
Russia Today editor in chief Margarita Simonyan said that the state-owned media outlet started an online Serbian language service. “We started RT Balkans because Kosovo is Serbia,” she wrote in a Twitter post.
He said that Europe, including the Western Balkans, needs to give free speech a fair chance. “For that we need to support strong, independent and free media and not to support propaganda mouthpieces of a country which is waging war against Europe, against EU enlargement, against our values, because this would be detrimental not only to Serbia but also to the whole region of the Western Balkans,” he said.
He said that he is alarmed by the level of disinformation in Serbian media, adding that permission to launch Russia Today in Serbia is a step in the wrong direction and an action completely opposite to the commitment heard from the government and public institutions.
Russia’s Ambassador Alexander Botsan Harchenko blasted Bilcik saying that he “cynically forgot general European values” and accusing the MEP of practically calling Serbia to ban Russia Today. He said in a Twitter post in Serbian that Bilcik and everyone else in European institutions does not care that “most Serbians want to get their news from Russia Today”.
“This is also an important message to all of those who are responsible for the media scene in Serbia and across the Western Balkans. The regulators have to be serious about serious media. There are rules that also apply to the operation of media in any democracy, precisely because we want to guard and protect the public interest, which is to spread responsible news, news which are based on facts, news which are based on professional journalism and Russia Today is completely out of bounds with any of these principles,” Bilcik said.