CPJ: Pro-government publisher attacks journalist Vuk Cvijić over investigative report

Source/Author: CPJ

Serbian authorities should conduct a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation into the recent physical attack against journalist Vuk Cvijić, hold those responsible to account, and ensure the journalist’s safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

Vuk Cvijić, a reporter for the weekly newspaper Radar, was walking by a cafe around 1 p.m. on May 29 in the capital, Belgrade, when publisher Milan Lađević began shouting insults and expletives, asking how he dared to write an article connecting him to Slobodan Malešić, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ, and news reports. Malešić is the former head of police in Novi Sad, a city in northwestern Serbia, and is currently being tried on organized crime charges.

Lađević is co-owner of Media Network, which publishes pro-government newspaper Telegraf, and was sitting with his deputy, Boris Vukovic.

Cvijić said he tried to move away from the pair when Lađević stood up, approached the journalist, and punched him on the right side of his chin, causing Cvijić to fall on the sidewalk and break his phone screen. He was treated at a hospital for a contusion and given medication.

Cvijić told CPJ that Lađević was referencing an article printed by the weekly magazine NIN — where the journalist worked in 2023 — in which the journalist described Lađević as a close ally of Malešić, according to CPJ’s review of the 2023 November article.

Lađević denied attacking the journalist in a statement to the newspaper Republika, which serves as the online edition of Telegraf, and claimed Cvijić was the one who provoked, insulted, attacked them, and then staged the incident. CPJ emailed questions to Lađević but received no reply.

The Belgrade prosecutor’s office started an investigation and took statements from Lađević, Vukovic, and Cvijić, but had not issued any further updates as of Wednesday, according to Cvijić. CPJ’s emailed questions to the prosecutor’s office did not receive a response.

“It is a welcome development that Serbian authorities have started an investigation following the recent attack against journalist Vuk Cvijić. They must ensure that the investigation is swift, thorough, and transparent, hold those responsible to account, and ensure the journalist’s safety,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Independent journalists in Serbia work in an increasingly hostile atmosphere, and authorities must demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy for such attacks.”

Veran Matić, a 1993 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award and member of Serbia’s Working Group for the Security and Protection of Journalists, told N1 TV that police and prosecutors gave high priority to the investigation. Matić said it was important that the case was resolved as the attack was against an investigative journalist in an increasingly toxic climate in Serbia, and Lađević is the head of a media company that “often targets journalists like Vuk Cvijić, with untruths [and] fake news.”

Radar condemned the attack in a May 29 statement and demanded Serbian authorities properly investigate the case, adding that independent media and the Serbian society as a whole face “a dangerous spiral of violence — unfortunately, encouraged by the authorities and media close to them.”

Press freedom groups SafeJournalists network, Media Freedom Rapid Response partners and Coalition for Media Freedom condemned the attack in a May 30 statement as the most recent incident in ongoing attacks against journalists in Serbia.

CPJ has documented how independent journalists in Serbia face an increasingly hostile atmosphere in 2024 with a growing number of physical and online attacks due to the anti-press rhetoric from President Aleksandar Vučić’s supporters, government officials, and pro-government media.

Journalists working for NIN quit the newspaper in January 2024 and launched Radar in March, citing a need to protect professional integrity amid criticism that NIN’s new owner is curtailing editorial independence.