March 19, 2019

Serb protesters storm public TV channel to denounce reporting bias

Opponents trying to break into the state-run RTS television building / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the methods used by demonstrators who forced their way into the headquarters of Serbia’s public TV broadcaster RTS last weekend to protest against its biased coverage and try to make their voice heard. At the same time, RSF urges RTS to start covering the three-month-old wave of anti-government protests in accordance with professional standards.

Since the start of December, thousands of Serbs have been staging regular demonstrations to protest against President Aleksandar Vučić’s authoritarian government and to demand free elections and independent media. One of their main targets has been RTS, which has provided very one-sided coverage of the protests from the outset. RTS has been fiercely criticized by the opposition and is often described as totally subservient to the government.


The protests took a new turn on the evening of 16 March, when around 30 protesters forced their way into the RTS building and demanded to be allowed to speak on the air in order to condemn its failure to cover the protests adequately. The police eventually forced them to leave shortly before midnight.


We call on RTS to fulfil its role as a public service media, that is to say, to be a reliable source of independent news coverage,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “This means that it must cover the wave of protests that have been growing for the past three months in Serbia. It is unacceptable that protesters have to seize control of a media outlet in order to express their disagreement with its editorial policies and to make their voice heard. Such methods violate the basic principles of a healthy democracy.”


Serbia is ranked 76th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, after falling ten places in the space of a year. Press freedom is hampered by the lack of media independence and pluralism, and by collusion between politicians and media.