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Albanian and Serbian journalists are attacked in Northern Mitrovica

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The Association of Journalists of Kosovo – AJK, expresses its concern about the difficult and unsafe working conditions for journalists today in the northern municipalities of Kosovo.

According to the reports, several journalists of different Albanian media were attacked in the “Bosniak Quarter” in Northern Mitrovica and another incident occurred on the road that leads to Leposavic where protesters chased cars with journalists.

Meanwhile, there were attacks and pressures on journalists of local news portal “Kossev”, by protesters. As a result, the news website has withdrawn its teams reportimg from the field.

AJK calls upon Kosovo Police to provide a safe envoirment for journalists in order for them to carry out their work in an unhindered manner.

The erosion of media freedom in the Balkans has gone too far

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Foto: Pixabay

The EU is supposed to embody the values of liberty, democracy and fundamental human rights. But when it comes to media freedom, it is a passive observer in the face of widespread abuses on its own turf and in its immediate neighbourhood, writes Antoinette Nikolova.

Antoinette Nikolova is the founder and Director of the Balkan Free Media Initiative established in April 2021.

Methodical attacks on independent media are becoming endemic across Eastern Europe, and especially in the Balkans.

EU member states such as Bulgaria are nestled among authoritarian states from the developing world in this year’s Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, in which Bulgaria ranked a shocking 112th out of 180 countries surveyed.

Other Balkan states eying accession to the EU, such as Serbia and North Macedonia, are characterised with domestic media markets where independent critical voices are forced to the fringes of public discourse.

Unfortunately, the EU appears to lack both the will and the tools to improve the situation.

This issue cannot be neglected any longer, especially since attacks on media in the Balkans are increasingly sophisticated and far-reaching.

A robust, independent media market relies on a complex interplay between many state and non-state actors. Lawmakers, media owners, suppliers, distributors, advertisers, regulators and outside observers all have a part to play.

However, while cases of attacks on journalists are well documented by several organisations, there is not enough attention paid to the insidious practices used by politicians and their allies to control the wider media environment.

The Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI) was created to help address this problem and to shed light on the shadowy commercial techniques strangling free media in the Balkan region.

This is the subject of the first BFMI report, which looks at media censorship in Bulgaria, Serbia and North Macedonia.

As the report notes, the main tools for manipulating the media markets identified include, but are not limited to:

  • Control of public broadcasters and regulatory authorities tasked with upholding media laws
  • Abuse of weak regulation on transparency of ownership to enable unlawful control of media outlets by governments or their proxies
  • Use of government subsidies to foster clientelism in weak, over-saturated media markets

As the EU prepares its much-advertised Media Freedom Act, BFMI calls on the European institutions to give these issues the attention they deserve.

Sadly, control of the media influences politics not just in authoritarian states but in democratic countries too. Silvio Berlusconi would hardly have been Italy’s three-time prime minister without his media empire. The influence of Rupert Murdoch in the UK and, later, in the rise of Trump, is similarly well documented.

However, in the cases listed above there were at least some checks and balances. When Berlusconi became actively involved in the political scene in Italy, for example, he had to give up ownership of his media assets.

But in less advanced democracies in the Balkans, where there are inadequate mechanisms to prevent the emergence of abusive systems, political control of the media risks incapacitating the democratic process.

In Bulgaria, it is legal for politicians to own media outlets and some political parties have their own television channels.

In Serbia, the country’s state-owned cable operator, Telekom Srbija, has entered lucrative partnerships with allies of President Aleksandar Vučić, who have gone on to purchase media outlets, which have in some cases become noticeably more pro-government in their reporting. In North Macedonia, prominent politicians can circumvent regulation by installing immediate family members as owners of their media assets.

Across the three states, the regulatory bodies designed to uphold the law and prevent abuse of the market are underfunded, while rules for appointing senior management leave them further vulnerable to political interference.

At the same time, saturated media markets mean large numbers of outlets compete for dwindling advertising revenues, leaving media outlets open to clientelism from state contracts as well as private investors. In the case of Bulgaria, non-transparent distribution of funds from the EU itself remains a serious issue.

In North Macedonia, the incoming SDSM government elected in 2017 pledged to stop government funding of the media or advertising apart from projects in the public interest of the former. The government’s pledge and other widespread media reforms remain unfulfilled.

Such broken promises are all too common. Leaders in the Balkans, most recently Serbia’s President Vučić, present themselves as reformists and enjoy photo opportunities with senior EU leaders. Meanwhile, at home, media freedoms are systematically being eroded.

The EU cannot allow this pretence to continue. It needs to use its leverage to hold these countries to account. The longer these anti-democratic tendencies are allowed to continue, the harder it will be to undo the damage they have caused.

AJK alarmed after threats against Gazeta Sinjali journalists

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Association of Journalists of Kosovo is alarmed over the threats towards our colleagues of Gazeta Sinjali.

Journalists of the news website have been threatened by killing and insulted by relatives of the people who were arrested yesterday by Kosovo Police suspected over plots to carry a terrorist attack in Kosovo.

AJK finds it extremely disturbing and completely unacceptable that journalists continue to be target of such threats. Therefore, we call upon the competent authorities to protect the journalists and this online news media in order to prevent any eventual incident.

We believe that such threats seriously endanger freedom of expression and the climate of doing journalism. We also call on our colleagues to report such cases of threats to Kosovo Police.

Odbrana završila sa iznošenjem završnih reči: Okrivljeni nisu ubili Ćuruviju, osloboditi ih optužbi

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Foto: Slavko Ćuruvija Fondacija

Advokatica Ratka Romića i Milana Radonjića, dvojice okrivljenih za ubistvo novinara Slavka Ćuruvije, Zora Dobričanin Nikodinović juče je u završnoj reči rekla da nema dokaza protiv njenih klijenata i zatražila oslobađajuću presudu za sve okrivljene u ovom postupku.

Na red da iznese svoju završnu reč juče je na ponovljenom suđenju za ubistvo novinara i vlasnika listova Dnevni telegraf i Evropljanin Slavka Ćuruvije došla advokatica Zora Dobričanin Nikodinović. Ona u ovom postupku zastupa dvojicu okrivljenih i to bivšeg operativca Resora državne bezbednosti (RDB) Ratka Romića i nekadašnjeg načelnika beogradskog RDB-a Milana Radonjića.

Tako je Dobričanin Nikodinović u sudnici Posebnog odeljenja za organizovani kriminal završnu reč izlagala duže od tri sata i tom prilikom zatražila oslobađanje njenih klijenata:

„Moji klijenti nisu krivi za ubistvo Slavka Ćuruvije i molim da ih oslobodite“, rekla je na samom početku i dodala da ih Sud ne može „osloboditi od ljage“ koju trpe već dve decenije, a koja im je naneta kršenjem pretpostavke nevinosti.

Kako je ocenila, svi izvedeni dokazi u ovom postupku apsolutno su suprotni činjeničnim navodima optužbe:

„Odbrana je, a ne tužilac, pokušala da otkrije ko je ubio Slavka Ćuruviju. Da se branimo nismo imali od čega, nije bilo relevantnih dokaza“.

Ona je zatražila i oslobađajuću presudu za preostala dva okrivljena – Radomira Markovića i Miroslava Kuraka. Ovo ročište zapravo je nastavak onog koji je održan dan ranije kada su završnu reč izneli Markovićevi i Kurakov advokat. Oni su takođe od Suda zatražili da njihove klijente oslobodi optužbi.

Pre toga je, u julu, zamenik tužioca za organizovani kriminal Milenko Mandić zatražio da se svi okrivljeni maksimalno kazne. Odnosno, zatražio je da se na zatvorsku kaznu u trajanju od po 40 godina osude Marković kao podstrekač, Radonjić kao organizator, a Romić i Kurak kao neposredni izvršioci ubistva.

U svojoj završnoj reči Dobričanin Nikodinović je ocenila da je „monopol na istinu“ povodom ubistva Ćuruvije odavno uspostavljen, a da svim tim „privilegovanim svedocima“ i „vlasnicima monopola na istinu“ interes nije bio istina već su meta bile pozicije u Državnoj bezbednosti i diskreditacija institucija države. Istinu su uzurpirali, prema njenim rečima, pojedini mediji, političari i nevladine organizacije. Tu je istakla Natašu Kandić, bivšu direktorku Fonda za humanitarno pravo, koja je podnela krivičnu prijavu zbog Ćuruvijinog ubistva.

Kako je dodala, lično su joj bila tužna svedočenja nekih svedoka koji su se obrukali kako onim što su radili tako i onim što su govorili:

„Zaboravili su na ono: ’U dobru se ne ponesi, u zlu se ne ponizi’. Čak i posle ponovljenog postupka podjednako smo daleko od istine ko je ubio Slavka Ćuruviju, ali smo sigurni da to nisu ovde okrivljeni“.

Za Tužilaštvo je rekla da nudi „spinove“ i „političke floskule“, ali i da dokazi nesporno demantuju navode optužbe te da im se daje značenje koje nemaju.

„Ja sam čitav angažman javnotužilačke strane shvatila kao pokušaj da se dokaže da je vrh države u vreme NATO bombardovanja bio zločinački režim. Da se ovde sudi jednom vremenu“, kazala je advokatica Romića i Radonjića.

Ocenila je da tužilac „kao da pokušava da sruši vlast Slobodana Miloševića“, odnosno da se u optužnici posthumno vodi postupak protiv Miloševića.

„Šta je cilj? Da pokažemo da smo veći katolici od pape? Da nadomestimo ono što nije uspeo Haški tribunal?“, upitala je Dobričanin Nikodinović i dodala da tužilac ne veruje pisanim dokazima jer se oni ne uklapaju u „navodne dokaze o telekomunikaciji pa menja i pomera vreme smrti“ kako bi okrivljene približio mestu ubistva.

Podsetila je i na izjavu Branke Prpe, koja je bila neposredni očevidac ubistva, a kojoj, kako je ocenila, tužilac želi da zatvori usta. Prpa je, podsećamo, negirala da je Kuraka videla da puca i kao ubicu identifikovala Luku Pejovića. Tužilac je njeno svedočenje odbacio kao nepouzdano.

„Zašto joj ne veruje? Kreiran je cilj –  da je Državna bezbednost ubila Slavka Ćuruviju. Tako se Branka Prpa uteruje u laž jer ne treba da veruje svojim očima. Meni je to skandalozno“.

Dobričanin Nikodinović je u završnoj reči pričala i o belom golfu, kojim su prema optužnici Romić i Kurak došli na mesto ubistva, za koji je rekla da je spin. Ona je podsetila na izjave svedoka koji su kazali da na dan ubistva nisu videli beli golf. U završnoj reči je istakla i da „ako je iko sprečavao da ubica bude otkriven to je Tužilaštvo“.

Osvrnula se i na dokaze o telekomunikacijama za koje je rekla da je evidentno da su pribavljeni suprotno svim pravilima te da je to „zbirka nezakonito pribavljenih dokaza“. Još tada je „pušten duh iz boce“ istakla je Dobričanin Nikodinović jer kad nezakonito postupanje s dokazima jednom prođe, kako je rekla, to postane opšta praksa. Ocenila je kao nedvosmislenim da se ovakvi dokazi ne mogu koristiti za zasnivanje presude.

„Kada je Sud to zatražio rokovi (za čuvanje tih podataka, prim.nov) su prošli. Postavlja se pitanje ko ih je, gde i zašto skrivao?“, kazala je i dodala da je posebno važno i pitanje autentičnosti tih podataka.

Ona je dodala da ima pijetet prema pokojniku, ali da je „on tada bio nebitan kao novinar“.

„Nakon završne reči tužioca nije poznato da li je Slavko Ćuruvija ubijen kao novinar, kao potencijalni predsednički kandidat ili kao državni neprijatelj“, rekla je ova advokatica.

Na samom kraju završne reči je citirala kolegu advokata Tomu Filu rečima: „Onog momenta kad politika uđe u sud na vrata, pravda izlazi kroz prozor“.

„Ovde nemamo prozor. To me plaši“, zaključila je.

Njenim izlaganjem završeno je iznošenje završnih reči odbrane, a nastavak suđenja zakazan je za 25. oktobar kada završne reči treba da iznesu sami okrivljeni. Reč je o ponovljenom postupku koji traje od oktobra 2020, a tokom kog su ročišta neretko odlagana.

Podsetimo, Ćuruvija je ubijen u Svetogorskoj ulici u Beogradu 11. aprila 1999, a suđenje okrivljenima za njegovo ubistvo počelo je tek 16 godina kasnije. Iako je u aprilu 2019. doneta prvostepena presuda kojom su bivši funkcioneri državne bezbednosti Marković i Radonjić osuđeni na po 30 godina, a Romić i Kurak na po 20 godina zatvora Apelacioni sud ukinuo je presudu i postupak vratio na početak. Apelacija je tako odlučila jer je, kako su obrazložili, optužnica prekoračena jer je bez jasnog objašnjenja uvedeno novo i nepoznato lice kao neposredni izvršilac likvidacije. Tako je prvostepenom presudom Sud kao neposrednog izvršioca ubistva označio N.N. lice umesto Romića i Kuraka koje je Tužilaštvo teretilo kao neposredne izvršioce.

The Chairman of the Board of AJK, Xhemajl Rexha Participates in the Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Journalists – EFJ

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Association of Journalists of Kosovo – AJK, at the annual meeting of the European Federation of Journalists – EFJ, which is being held in Zagreb, Croatia, was represented by the Chairman of the Board, Xhemajl Rexha.

Rexha was a panel member on “Journalists under pressure in the Western Balkans”, where he presented the latest Safety Index about the journalists in Kosovo, which was conducted by AJK in compliance with the regional platform Safe Journalists.

He also presented in general the situation of media freedom in Kosovo, the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the work and well-being of Kosovar journalists, as well as the need for monitoring and transparency on the important process of electing the new Board of Public Broadcaster – RTK, and the election of the new IMC members.

Filipovic convicted for endangering safety of Tadić Mijović

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Foto: PR Centar (printscreen)

PODGORICA, 8.10.2021 – Bozidar Bosko Filipovic (56) from Petrovac was sentenced to three months in prison for endangering the safety of the director of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro, Milka Tadic Mijovic, Vijesti published.

In August, Filipovic verbally attacked Tadic Mijovic in Petrovac.

The convicting decision was made by the judge of the Basic Court in Kotor, Momirka Tesić, who extended Filipovic’s detention.

During her closing arguments, state prosecutor Andja Radovanovic requested that Filipovic’s detention be extended.

In his closing remarks, the attorney of the injured party, Tadic Mijovic, lawyer Aleksandar Djurisic, assessed that the presentation of evidence undoubtedly established the factual situation, ie proved that there were elements of the criminal offense of Filipovic.

“The testimony of the injured party Tadic Mijovic is fully confirmed by witness Radovic (Milos). And if that is not the case, the fact is that the injured party is innocent, without a criminal record and is engaged in socially useful public activity that sometimes attracts attention. In a specific legal matter, it is untrue that she wrote an article to which the defendant refers in his defense as the reason for this event, “said Djurisic.

Defendant’s attorney, Slavica Ilic, in her closing arguments, requested that Filipovic’s custody be lifted. The defendant asked for the same.

Filipovic, a former boxer who is marked in the police records as an interesting security person, was arrested in mid-August in Petrovac after he verbally attacked a journalist and threatened her.

The 56-year-old did not plead guilty at any stage of the proceedings but claimed that he was trying to protect the journalist from a verbal attack by a certain person while she was parking.

Jovanovic: Safety of all honorable journalist is endangered

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Jovanovic (Private archive)

PODGORICA, 07.10.2021. – Journalist at daily Vijesti, Jelena Jovanovic, in August this year got 24-hour police escort. She has filed a criminal charge against suspected of two mureders and his lawyer, after she received a letter, mailed as “reaction”, which contained information where journalist lives. Jovanovic interpreted this as serious threats and attempts to intimidate and discredit.

Despite everything, this journalist doesn’t give up, as she says, the maximum giving to journalism. In interview for Safe Journalists, Jovanovic points out that the state does too little to protect journalists, and that polarization can lead to even worse position of media community.

TUMM: How does life look like with a police escort?

Jelena Jovanovic: This is not the first time that I have 24-hour police escort, so it took me much less time to get used to a completely changed lifestyle, which implies that at no time, outside my home and outside the newsroom, can I be alone and free. Of course, none of this is easy to get used to, because it just isn’t natural. The very feeling that I’m not free to go alone, with my family, partner, friends… wherever I want, even if it was a walk to the city, awakenes anger in me. I am angry at myself and the whole society because we allowed that someone who is just doing his job must fear for his life. Still, the first time I was assigned police security in 2018, I’ve learned that it’s easier when I accept it. Police escort implies that they are now, simply, part of my life – we go to work together, to hiking, to parties, funerals, to a cafe, cinema, birthdays, we walk together… With the fact that, if I am not in a public space (cafes, beach, mountains), when I get to the location where I will be staying, they are waiting in front of the room. I am forbidden to use my car, which means that at no time, when I’m out of a safe location, I can be alone, even if it meant going to the drugstore to get cigarettes or going to the hairdresser. This makes life and work much more difficult, because some sources from the security services do not want to see me as long as I have safeguard. Somehow I manage to overcome that problem as well.

TUMM: How do the police treat you? Do you trust them?

Jelena Jovanovic: Police officers which have been assigned to me are extremely professional and they treat me with a lot of respect and understanding. Last time, when five officers were on the team guarding me, and now, I was lucky that they were really wonderfull people who know their job. I trully believe that, in the event that someone sets out to endanger me, they would protect my life.

TUMM: You have experienced several threats and attacks. Which case was the most stressful for you and why?

Jelena Jovanovic: The most stressful, traumatic and by far the most difficult case is the murder of my interlocutor at the table, when I was not direct target of the attack, but it left significant consequences on me, trauma and a long-lasting recovery that is still ongoing. Of the other attacks and threats, of which I no longer know the number, I can’t even remember which one I would single out, because they were all traumatic in their own way. The biggest feeling of threat to me, if it can be graded at all, was caused by the last threats, because they come from the person suspected by the prosecution of two murders, even for the murder I witnessed, which is associated with the notorius Kavach criminal clan, whose cruelty we are all witnesses to. On the other hand, I felt most helpless when one of the members of the Skaljar criminal clan came to the newsroom to threaten me. It was then that I realized that they choose neither time nor place and that journalists in Montenegro are not fully protected anywhere.

TUMM: Why are you the target of the attacks?

Jelena Jovanovic: This is a question I often ask myself. The overall climate in the country, which has lasted for years, has led to journalists being an easy target for insults, threats, attacks… Such a climate was further complicated by state officials, who often targeted us as enemies, and by corrupted police officers who shared information with criminals – which journalist is interested in which case, and according to my information, they plotted to hide their affiliation with the mafia. Also, recently a representative of one of the clans informed me that, when they tried to deny the text in other media, „journalist“ of that media „suggested“  that it would be good for them to deny my texts as well, because „I write much worse things“. In my opinion it’s unacceptable and it’s drawing a target, unfortunately, this time as a couple of years ago, comes from our profession which really struck me.  After all these years, I believe that this is the case with others, those who are afraid of the truth, when they saw that I did not back down from gossips, slanders, offensive comments under my texts, insults… subtly offering a “better job” so that I would not wrote, they moved to the next level – threats. On the other hand, there are those for whom threat and/or attack is the first and only option, because their consciousness is distorted by the crime they live in, for which until recently they had the support of those who were supposed to sanction them.

TUMM: Have you reported every threat you received? How satisified are you with the response of the institutions?

Jelena Jovanovic: I did not report all threats, especially not the “subtle” ones on social networks, but also those throwing in a cafe, on the street, provocations… I did not report threats from mothers who do not blame their children for crimes, nor the police who prosecuted them, but they come to threaten me, because I published their names… I thought it was not worth paying attention to, and now I believe I did the right thing. I have reported serious threats and in all cases so far the institutions have had an adequate response. The only unexplored things that remain and where I think the prosecution has failed are the threats due to the texts about a potential protected witness for the murder of Dusko Jovanovic. If the prosecution had recognized the seriousness of the threats then, today, at least in our ranks, there would be significantly fewer of those who disgrace our profession by working for the benefit of the mafia.

TUMM: How much support do you have?

Jelena Jovanovic: I have the exceptional support of family, friends, colleagues from the main editorial office, but also others, journalist associations, Trade Union of Media, the Commission for Monitoring Investigations of Attacks on Journalists and Media Property and all honorable people, who express it at every opportunity. Precisely because of this, I never thought of giving up the search for the truth.

TUMM: How do you perceive conditions in which journalist work in Montenegro? We think, first of all, of security but, also, of socio-economic conditions.

Jelena Jovanovic: The safety of all honorable journalists in Montenegro is endangered, because it is a matter of days when someone will disturb our work. Unfortunately, apart from the statements given when something happens, the state does nothing to protect us, except that, “when the water reaches the floor”, it assigns security to the journalists. Socio-economic conditions are catastrophic. I think that it is also our fault, because we are not in solidarity when it comes to resolving the basic conditions in which we work.

TUMM: Have you ever considered giving up journalism? Are you scared?

Jelena Jovanovic:  No. Threats, attacks, insults, an inadequate reward for my efforts, in the form of a monthly salary, didn’t forced me to give up.

I am afraid that it will be worse than this, because it is the division of media representatives that can put us all in an even worse position than we are in now. And position is desperate. When it comes to my life, I can’t say I’m not afraid that someone who threatens me will really take the next step, but at the same time, I suppress those feelings, because living in fear, like fear itself, paralyzes a person, and I’m not used to living like that. I firmly believe that the recent events will strengthen me, as well as all the previous ones, and that those who threaten journalists, attack them, intimidate them… will be adequately punished for that.

 

 

 

The right to know, but not Everything and not Promptly

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Foto: Pixabay

The holiday that we have been “celebrating” for fifteen years, The International Day for Universal Access to Information, was marked in Serbia last week, at the same time while we are waiting for the change of the law that regulates access to information. Civil society organizations believe that the proposed solutions are inadequate, and the analysis shows that the information in the future could come months after sending FOIA.

Exclusion of some institutions from the supervision of the Commissioner, longer time to act on complaints, lack of decision-making in regards to the public interest – these are some of the changes anticipated if Serbia approves changes of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance.

The current Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, Milan Marinovic, sees the reforms as a good thing. While marking The International Day for Universal Access to Information, Marinovic said that the modifications will contribute to a more efficient practice when it comes to the right to information. As he said, citizens will get information from the authorities faster and easier.

Journalists’ associations and civil society organizations do not agree with him.

After the first draft was published at the end of May this year, a group of organizations raised objections to the proposed solutions.

“We especially emphasize that the introduction of new solutions that reduce the achieved level of the right to access information and its protection would be not only bad but also unconstitutional,” the statement holds.

They added that the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government (MDULS) formed the working group without public involvement and that due to the difficult access to the text of the draft, civil society representatives presented their proposals late, but most of them were not even included in the Draft Amendments to the Law.

They added that this draft won’t solve the problems detected earlier.

 

The public’s right to know: what can change

One of the planned changes is the additional exclusion of institutions from the competence of the Commissioner.

If we approve the law amendments, it will not be possible to file an appeal to the Commissioner against the rescript of the National Bank of Serbia (NBS). If this institution does not respond to the FOIA request, an administrative dispute may be initiated. This way, NBS was equated with the Government, the National Assembly, the Supreme Cout, Constitutional Court, and the Republic Public Prosecutor.

Data from the Commissioner’s office show that the media, citizens, and the civil sector used the opportunity to appeal against rescripts of the NBS. From March 2013 to the beginning of September this year, more than 100 complaints were submitted to the Commissioner due to the failure of the authorities to act or submit the requested information. Most of the information they were looking for had to do with spending money: salaries, donations, and sponsorships.

In some cases, there was no response from the NBS, while they appealed the decision.

If the proposed changes are adopted, the Commissioner will no longer decide on this.

If these changes are adopted, the Commissioner will be able to initiate misdemeanor proceedings.

The analysis of the changes published on the MDULS website also states that the current version of Law leaves the probability of misuse. It is also stated that a large number of applicants do not file a complaint to the Commissioner, but initiate misdemeanor proceedings themselves. This is also mentioned in the annual report of the Commissioner.

Current law provides the possibility of paying the imposition and collection of fines.

The person in charge of responding to FOIA requests will pay fines up to 50 thousand dinars if, among other things, he/she refuses to receive the request, does not act upon it, or submits incomplete or inaccurate information, does not act upon the Commissioner’s decision.

According to the data NUNS obtained from the Misdemeanor Court in Belgrade, from the beginning of 2018 till the end of August, 36 disputes related to FOIA requests were initiated. Disputes were initiated due to non-compliance with the received request, two because someone’s right regarding access to information was disabled, two because The Commissioner was not allowed to inspect the documents.

 

Information could come months after

One of the proposed changes is that the Commissioner is given twice as much time to resolve the appeal. The deadline was extended from 30 to 60 days. That means that some information could come months later.

If, for example, you send a FOIA request on June 1st, the institution is bound to respond within 15 days (except in the case when, due to the volume of information, it immediately extends the deadline for response to 40 days). If they do not reply, you can file a complaint to the Commissioner starting June 17th. He has up to 60 days to act on it. So he can, for example, require the institution to answer you on August 17, and they have a deadline for that.

This would mean that you can get the information you requested on June 1st up to three months later, in September.

This is valid if the Commissioner does not revoke the decision and order the institution to respond again. What this means: The Commissioner can annul the decision by which the institution refused to answer you. Then the institution rules again, and if they reject your FOIA request one more time, you can, again, appeal to the Commissioner. The analysis of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) showed that the Commissioner is increasingly asking the institutions to decide again on the FOIA request, so in the last two years the number of such decisions has almost doubled.

This prolongs the process of obtaining information of public importance and potentially loses relevance.

 

What we wouldn’t know without FOIA

Some of the biggest journalistic discoveries in Serbia were made specifically because of access to information.

How many medical ventilators are there in Serbia at the beginning of the epidemic, how many people have been vaccinated, as well as the information that the court postponed the imprisonment of supporter Aleksandar Stankovic, called Sale Mutavi, 12 times, and also that some Belgrade ambulance patients were left without medical care – these are just some from a discovery that would remain hidden from the public if there weren’t for FOIA requests.

 

The article was created as part of the project “Improving Dialogue between Journalists’ Associations and Parliaments in the Western Balkans for a Stronger Civil Sector”, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN).

The content of this article, as well as the information and views presented, do not represent the official views and opinions of Sida and BCSDN. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this text is entirely copyrighted.

Public consultations completed, SMCG sent dozens of proposals

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PODGORICA, 4.10.2021 – The Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media recently completed public consultations regarding the reform of media legislation.

The subject of discussion was the draft law on audiovisual media services, the Law on Media and the Law on the National Public Broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG).

The Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG) sent dozens of proposals aimed at improving media legislation.

A significant number of proposals refer to the draft law on audiovisual media services, since it has been in draft form for many years. After it was recently returned with an expert review by the Council of Europe, the ministry offered it to the interested public. The goal of the proposal of the Media Union is mostly to protect the sustainability and independence of local public broadcasters, as media whose employees are in the most difficult position. A number of provisions have also been proposed in order to enable greater transparency in the work of local media financed from public revenues.

Although it has been in use for just over a year, the SMCG has also identified certain problems in the Media Law. Provisions are proposed to additionally protect the integrity of journalists, as well as all other workers who work on creating media content. Also, an amendment to the definition of media content and online publications has been proposed, in order to remove the doubts that currently exist. The subject of the amendment was the introduction of mandatory media registration, as well as the mandatory publication of media records by the responsible authority.

The Law on RTCG is also proposed to be amended, especially when it comes to the election of members of the RTCG Council. The SMCG considers that it is necessary to further specify certain provisions in order to avoid different interpretations. Also, additional regulation of the status of the Ombudsman has been proposed, and additional attention should be paid to the provisions prescribing conflicts of interest. Also, the protection of the integrity of all employees who work on creating media content should be ensured, not only journalists, which is currently the case.

The public consultations lasted until September 27.