Verbal attacks on journalists by pro-government Serb media

Source/Author: Reporters without borders
BELGRADE, 13.02.2018. – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a series of threats and verbal attacks by pro-government media against four journalists on social networks in recent days, in the run-up to local elections in Belgrade and two other municipalities, and calls on the authorities to punish those responsible. 

The victims include Tamara Skrozza, who was for several days the target of a smear campaign and hate messages orchestrated by TV Pink, a pro-government commercial TV channel, in response to a report by the Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), an NGO of which Skrozza is a member, analysing TV Pink’s political coverage.

The report showed that members of the leadership of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) appeared four times more often than the opposition on Pink TV from October to January, the three months before the official start of the municipal election campaign.

Ever since the report’s publication, Pink TV has been portraying Skrozza as an “enemy of the state” bent on harming President Aleksander Vucic. The attacks on her have been so virulent that the CRTA and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) asked TV viewers on 29 January to complain to the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM).

However, although 300 complaints were received within a few days, the REM said that it did not think Pink TV had violated any standards that it was not going to take any measures.

This is not the first time that Skrozza, a veteran journalist who writes for the weekly Vreme, has been targeted by the Serbian media, especially tabloids, but the attacks have never been so ferocious in the past.

Showing that all criticism will be punished

The pro-government media’s goal is always the same: to show that any journalist, Serbian or Kosovar, who criticizes the Serbian government will be subjected to reprisals.

The intensity of the current attacks on dissent can be attributed to the imminence of the 4 March municipal elections. The fight for control of the Belgrade city hall is crucial for the ruling party, which until now has been weaker in the capital than the rest of the country.

“We firmly condemn this latest campaign of intimidation against Serbian journalists and call on the authorities to denounce and punish those responsible,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “The Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media must do its job. It must deal with the complaints it receives and must impose sanctions on broadcasters when necessary, as in this case involving Pink TV.”

The offensive against Skrozza was the fourth in a series of attacks against independent journalists by pro-government media in less than a week.

Spate of attacks

After Una Hajdari, a Kosovo-based journalist, posted a humorous photomontage on Twitter about President Vucic’s 20 January visit to Kosovo, she was attacked on social networks by the president’s supporters, who accused her of “hating Serbia, the Serbs and Vucic.”

NUNS vice-president Dragan Janjic, the editor of the independent news agency Beta, received hundreds of insults and hate message on social networks the same week after angering Vucic by suggesting that Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanović’s murder on 16 January was “motivated by political considerations.”

Nikola Radisic, a journalist with N1, a TV channel that is a CNN International partner, was verbally aggressed on the street by two men, who accused him of being “an American spy and a traitor” and told him to never set foot “in this street” again.

Radisic filed a complaint, while the NUNS and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) called on the authorities to identify those responsible for this act of aggression and to guarantee Radisic’s safety. The NUNS was itself also targeted by unidentified persons, who affixed posters to the facade of its headquarters accusing it of being an “enemy of Serbia.”

Ironically, these attacks coincided with a visit to Belgrade by a delegation from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) to urge President Vucic to stop stigmatizing certain media outlets as “foreign agents” and to call for an end to the spiral of impunity for acts of violence against journalists.

The European Parliament’s rapporteur on Serbia, David McAllister, has meanwhile stressed that Serbia “needs to make clear progress in respecting the independence of the media” if it wants to succeed in its bid to join the European Union. Serbia is ranked 66th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.