SERBIA : Cartoonist fired then reinstated, both times at PM’s request
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards well-known cartoonist Dusan Petricic’s dismissal by the leading Serbian daily Politiko – although later rescinded – as unacceptable political censorship by the government.
When Politika fired Petricic on 30 September, editor Zarko Rakic said it was because of his “excessively high fees” and “delays in handing in his work.” But Petricic had previously refused to comply with verbal requests not to criticize Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic so often.
After an outcry about Petricic’s dismissal, Politica did a U-turn and told him he could return to work at once. But the Serbian Independent Association of Journalists (NUNS) described Politica’s response as “trick” designed to defuse the controversy.
The association said it was clear that both Petricic’s dismissal and reinstatement were orchestrated by the prime minister himself, who makes every effort to silence all journalists critical of the government.
RSF regards the censorship of political cartoons and the Serbian government’s grip on the country’s media as intolerable.
“The Serbian prime minister’s meddling in a daily newspaper’s internal affairs is extremely disturbing,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s Europe-Balkans desk. “The way the prime minister’s staff took the liberty of intervening in the running of a newspaper and the editor then complied is indicative of an outrageous level of collusion between the government and some of the media in Serbia.”
Ironically, Petricic’s cartoons had been cited several times in the past by the prime minister, who insists there is no censorship. In July, Vucic went so far as to stage an exhibition of “uncensored lies.”
It consisted of 2,523 cartoons, articles, tweets and TV broadcasts critical of the government that were carefully chosen by Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party and were displayed in gigantic gallery in downtown Belgrade as evidence that there is no governmental censorship of the media.
Serbia is ranked 59th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.