Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Serbian authorities to heed the legitimate demands of the country’s journalists, hundreds of whom have taken to the streets in the capital and a dozen other towns in the past two days to denounce the “deterioration” in media freedom. Four similar protests have been held in the past two months.
The media accuse the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of putting political pressure on journalists, while Prime Aleksandar Vucic has described the protests as an “attempt to destabilize” Serbia and has called for parliamentary elections in April, two years ahead of schedule. According to the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (NUNS), journalists in the northern city of Pancevo are “obliged” to join the SNS to keep their jobs. Journalists told RSF that the level of political pressure on the Serbian media has intensified in recent months. They are often the targets of smear campaigns or are accused by the government of being “mercenaries in the pay of foreign powers.” “Insulted, badly paid and fired,” journalists chanted during the demonstrations held at midday yesterday and the previous evening. The protests against the decline in conditions for journalists began in early December, after an incident involving defence minister Bratislav Gasic and a woman journalist with B92 TV. “I like these female journalists who kneel down so easily,” Gasic told Zlatija Nabovic, when she knelt to avoid getting into a camera’s field of vision during a news conference. His sexist comment sparked an outcry. The NUNS immediate demanded Gasic’s resignation. The prime minister promised at the time to fire him but has not kept his promise. His dismissal, if it did materialize, would anyway have to be approved by parliament and this could not take place before March, adding to the frustration. But the defence minister’s removal is just one of the demands of the movement, called “Journalists don't kneel.” The protesters are also calling for an investigation into the illegal surveillance of journalists, ordered by interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, and they want culture and information minister Ivan Tasovac held to account. “The Serbian government seems to have a problem accepting that the time is long past when the authorities could use the media as propaganda tools,” said Alexandra Geneste, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk in Brussels. “Before trying to join the European Union, Serbia must get in step with European standards on media freedom. We can only support this protest movement by Serbia journalists’ and their refusal to get down on their knees.” Yesterday’s protests were staged by press photographers, who were only somewhat mollified by parliament’s rejection of a bill submitted by the ruling party last week. The bill said: “Every routinely made photograph, which appears and is taken in electronic form, regardless of whether it is the true original creation of an author, will cease to enjoy protection as the creation of an author”. Serbia is ranked 67th out of 180 countries in the 2015 (Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.->xxx->http://index.rsf.org/#!/) Photo : ©Nihad Ibrahimkadic/Anadolu Agency.