RSF: No journalism, but political war in pro-government media in Serbia

PAvol Salaj

Alongside Montenegro and Bulgaria, Serbia is the country with the weakest performance in media freedom in the European Union and the Balkans, accompanied by the lack of political will to protect journalists, Pavol Salaj, of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has told the Voice of America (VOA) on Thursday.

He added there was an additional issue – the lack of ethical journalism in the pro-regime media and that the regulatory bodies in Serbia „are helpless amid slandering campaigns in pro-government media which are not journalism but a political war.“

In its annual report on World Press Freedom Index, RSF marked Serbia as the state where the fight against impunity for the attacks on journalists was still going on.

Salaj, in charge of the EU and Western Balkans, said that despite Serbia being at the 93rd place out of 180 countries as last year, the media freedom situation had worsened.

„It’s shown by the 0,4 points higher result compared with the last year. The higher score, the less media freedom. That’s important to look at as well, not only at the position of a country,“ Salaj said.

He added that many problems burdened media freedom in Serbia, and impunity was one of the bigger issues.

„Verbal, political attacks on the media, harassment by the state institutions, and many violent cases have not been sufficiently investigated,“ Salaj said.

„Regulatory bodies are helpless because they are not independent. They are politicised. The candidates for those institutions are not up to their obligations. They are not sufficiently professional. If those institutions are not functional, it’s not a democracy but a jungle,“ Salaj said.

He warned that verbal attacks by politicians, companies, and influential individuals should stop.

„It’s okay to criticise journalists and journalism, but there is a clear difference between criticism and targeting. We have seen a lot of the latter in Serbia. The institutional harassment – such as checking bank accounts and arbitrary arrests – should stop. It is important to fight against impunity. The cases of violence against journalists must be promptly investigated, and journalists must be protected. Otherwise, the already existing self-censorship would wake up,“ Salaj said.

He added that more transparency was needed to distribute the state aid to the media, and it should be juster.

According to Salaj, Serbia needs efficient and transparent regulatory institutions. He also warned that the authorities in Serbia used the pandemic crisis to block journalism.

„There is no better proof how much we need journalism as a vaccine against misinformation in the current crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic,“ Salaj said.