Award-winning, quality journalism, which investigates crime and corruption, is caught between rampant fake news and propaganda. While the legal framework is solid, journalists are threatened by political pressures and impunity of crimes committed against them.
With over 2,500 media outlets registered in the country, the media market is highly fragmented. The most influential media outlets include the public broadcaster RTS and the independent television network N1, as well as several tabloids. Award-winning investigative pieces have a limited audience because they are only featured online and in a few independent media outlets. Banned by the European Union as part of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian propaganda TV channel RT (formerly Russia Today) announced, in November 2022, that it was launching a Serbian-language offshoot called RT Balkan.
In a highly polarised political climate, journalists are regularly subjected to political attacks instigated by members of the ruling elite that are amplified by certain national TV networks. Neither politicians nor institutions, including the Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media (REM), composed mostly of individuals appointed by the government, have been willing to remedy the situation. In addition, journalists critical of the ruling party have restricted access to interviews with government representatives and to public information.
While Serbia has some of the most advanced legislations regarding the media, with a constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, journalists often operate in a restrictive environment, including self-imposed censorship. Regulations prescribing how prosecutors and the police should react when journalists are attacked has led to positive results in certain cases. However, the judiciary, which deals with many media-related issues, including strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), has yet to prove its independence and effectiveness in protecting freedom of the press.
The majority of media derive their revenue from advertising and opaque public subsidies. Access to both is largely controlled by the ruling elite and subject to publication bias. Media concentration is another emerging concern, with the state-owned Telekom Srbija and private company SBB waging a battle over access, programming and users.
Female journalists in the country are still targeted both for their reporting and gender. Far-right groups target the press that reports favourably about refugees and migrants.
While efforts have been underway to improve the security of journalists and fight impunity for crimes committed against them – in the form of two working groups and the introduction of an SOS line for media – Serbian journalists are still far from feeling protected. This is reinforced by the fact that many serious attacks on journalists remain unresolved, such as the 1999 assassination of Slavko Ćuruvija.