The government’s harassment and intimidation of journalists has increased in recent months, to the point that Vukasin Obradovic, the editor of the independent weekly Vranjske Novine, shut himself in his office and began a hunger strike on 19 September.
He said he wanted to draw attention to the “meaninglessness of the fight for media freedom that I have been waging for the last 30 years”.
President of the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (NUNS) from 2010 until February of this year, Obradovic is a renowned journalist who has won many awards for his investigative reporting. However, after being denied financial support and advertising revenue, his widely respected newspaper ran out of funds and has just been forced to close by the authorities.
Media outlets that are critical of President Aleksandar Vucic depend for the most part on public subsidies to survive, and the authorities have been imposing increasingly drastic conditions on them with the sole aim of reducing them to silence.
Journalists associations say that, when the government recently published a list of projects for which Vranjske Novine had received state subsidies, it was implying that any media outlet receiving public funds should refrain from criticizing the government.
“It is fundamental that the Serbian authorities should condemn targeted harassment and attacks on media outlets such as Vranjske Novine and that they should ensure that all publications are treated fairly,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk.
After posting articles about how defence minister Aleksandar Vulin bought his apartment, the investigative news website KRIK and its editor, Stevan Dojcinovic, have meanwhile been the targets of angry attacks by the Movement of Socialists (one of the parties in the ruling coalition) and by media outlets that support the prime minister.
The defence minister called Dojcinovic a “drug addict and great enemy of the state” without refuting the article’s claims or explaining how he obtained the money used to buy his apartment.
“RSF condemns the intimidation campaigns against opposition media outlets, including threats, blackmail and tax audits, which are designed to get rid of publications that annoy the government,” Adès-Mével added.
Serbia’s independent media are trying to draw the international community’s attention to their plight. Several Serbian journalists associations issued a joint appeal this week “to international organizations to publicly denounce the media freedom violations in Serbia.”
“The authorities are using state institutions and pro-government media to harass ‘inadequate’ media and journalists,” the joint statement said, urging international organizations to stop ignoring the grave problems affecting Serbia’s journalists and to help protect the democratic values they defend.
Serbia is ranked 66th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.