President and deputies of the ruling majority in parliament verbally attack journalists
With the formation of the new government and the establishment of the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society ceased to exist. Government law stipulates that a significant part of the competencies in the field of work of the Office will be transferred to the Ministry. The abolition of the Office marks the end of its role to ensure the participation of citizens in the preparation of legal regulations by ministries and local governments. Furthermore, it has been reported that the decision was conducted in a non-transparent way, in that CSOs were not consulted on the changes. There remain questions regarding who will carry out certain competencies which are not explicitly covered in the law, and how the potential removal of office staff could significantly affect the capacity of the Ministry to respond to all challenges and continuation of good practice. Civic Initiatives said:
“In this way, the space for constructive cooperation between all public authorities and the civil sector is significantly narrowed, which according to the standards of the European Union should be much more than a dialogue. The question remains how in the future practice of the Ministry the policy of citizen participation in the preparation of regulations will be implemented in accordance with the basic principles of the Guidelines for the Involvement of CSOs in the process of enacting regulations (translated from Serbian).”
Phantom site continues smear campaign
The phantom portal of “Prismotra” continues to discredit the work of CSOs and individuals working on the protection and promotion of human rights. In a text, the portal reported on self-proclaimed "fighters against the negative influence of the NGO sector" that are victims of the aggressive influence of CSOs. The report points out the Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights (YUCOM), which registers cases of attacks on human rights defenders. According to YUCOM, with the continuous attacks this portal is negatively affecting their work.
After the attack on Natasa Djereg and the Centre for Ecology and Sustainable Development (CEKOR), the “Prismotra” portal published a text listing "anti-Chinese lobbyists in Serbia". The text points out Janos Kish who they claim, together with Natasa Djereg, is a member of the "Art of living" sect and in charge of organising fake medical examinations. The portal also mentions Zvezdan Kalmar, who is accused of being a lobbyist against Russian investments in Serbia and Pera Markovic, an employee of CEKOR accused of "doing everything to keep 10,000 people in Bor and Smederevo out of work".
The site has since been suspended.
Representatives of the "Let's Defend Kosutnjak" initiative have said that members of the Obrenovac Police Department refused to receive notification of a demonstration in front of the "Mei Ta" factory, in which less than 20 people would participate. In the statement, it said that the representatives of the Ministry of Interior warned the organisers that if they carried out the planned action it would result in arrests due to a fear of factory workers joining and numbers exceeding 20 individuals. The demonstration comes after the Mei Ta factory was built without a study on environmental protection and is one of the biggest polluters in the vicinity of Belgrade.
Monitoring authority accused of bias
The Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (REM) has published new reports on the representation of political actors during the election campaign. According to the report, there is an impression that the ruling Serbian Progressive Party and the opposition Alliance for Serbia, which boycotted the elections, had approximately equal representation. However, according to the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Serbia (CINS), this is a result of a change in the REM’s methodology, which calls into question the relevance of the results. For the first time, in addition to national frequency television and public media services, the cable channels N1 and Nova S were also monitored, devoting most of their time to the election campaign, with lower visibility compared to stations with national frequency due to representatives of the ruling party generally refusing to participate in their shows. REM has also announced a restriction on reality show broadcasts before 11pm. However, contrary to the announcements, at the session of the REM Council, it was decided not to restart the procedure of drafting the rule book that would regulate this area, considering that the majority of members did not vote for the mentioned proposal. REM members who voted against the proposal argued that there was no clear evidence that these programmes violated the law, and that the adoption of such a rule book could mean the introduction of censorship.
Incidents against journalists
- A journalist of the Bujanovacke.co.rs portal was threatened via Facebook regarding a published text titled "Professor Kamberi's Lesson". According to the editors, the attack is part of a wider movement against all Serbian journalists who attempt to report professionally and impartially. The police have failed to identify the perpetrator.
- Social media manager at KRIK, Andjela Mitrovic’s apartment was broken into in Belgrade. This is the third case of burglary amongst journalists of the KRIK portal, including Dragana Pećo and Milica Vojinović. To date, no cases have been resolved. The editorial board of KRIK believes that these robberies could be related to the work of KRIK and appeals to the investigative bodies to resolve these cases.
La plataforma @KRIKrs realiza un importante trabajo de periodismo de investigación en #Serbia. Ayer entraron en casa de una de sus empleadas, Andjela Mitrović. Ya es el tercer caso contra alguien del periódico y ninguno ha sido esclarecido por la policía. https://t.co/EOJTRuqLqB— Miguel Roán 😷 (@miguelroan1) November 6, 2020
- Journalist and editor of the A1 portal and director of the Media Centre in Novi Pazar, Enes Radetinac, received a threatening text message in relation to his work. The message read that "he should work honestly, raise honest people, which will be good for his health, and otherwise he will not be able to hold a microphone or hug his wife.” (translated from Serbian). The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia condemned these threats and called on the authorities to find the perpetrators. Criminal charges were filed against the perpetrators.
- Journalist Ivana Mastilovic Jasnic, who has been reporting on the trial of Milutin Jelicic Jutka for the sexual abuse of former associate Marija Lukic, received threats via Twitter. It was discovered that Milutin Jelicic's daughter used a Twitter account to insult those who write about her father critically. The Prosecution decided that there were no elements for criminal prosecution and merely issued a warning to Jelicic’s daughter.
- The President of Serbia used the tour of the construction work of the COVID-19 Hospital in Batajnica to settle accounts with political dissidents and journalists. He accused his political opponents of investing hundreds of millions of euros in the purchase of N1, Nova S, News Max Adria, Danas and five radio stations. The statement is a serious accusation against the professional media which, by associating with opposition politicians, denies independence and objectivity in their work.
- The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, the Association of Journalists of Serbia and the Union of Journalists of Serbia condemned sexual insults against journalist Zaklina Tatalovic by folk singer Aca Lukas on Pink TV. According to the statements, this case is another version of the attack that Tatalovic and other journalists endure from the highest state officials, including the President. It was also suggested that part of the responsibility lies with Pink TV as Lukas was allowed to repeat insults against the journalist several times during the show. The Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) determined that no media law was violated and therefore that Pink TV is not responsible in this case. The Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, Gordana Comic, did not comment on the case either. The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pasalic, has noted that the singer made these claims and accusations because he was aware that he would not bear consequences for such behaviour. He added that attacks on journalists, especially female journalists, have continued to take place.
“Insults and ridicule of female journalists, moreover, are more frequent and brutal and warn of growing intolerance, as well as the impossibility of establishing an elementary dialogue in society.”
- On 11th November 2020, Tatalovic received direct and indirect threats via Instagram, with one message threatening to beat her.
- After the attack on the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, unnamed authors from the Prismotra editorial board published a series of reports against the employees of the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina (NDNV). The target of one attack was Milos Katic, which was presented as "raising funds to finance Vojvodina's separatism" as an accountant for NDNV. Furthermore, Branislava Opranovic, a member of the NDNV Council and a journalist of the Autonomy portal, was also negatively labelled.
- Journalist and Professor at the University of Novi Sad, Dinko Gruhonjic, was the target of hate speech and expressions of national intolerance. There was an insulting graffiti attack at the entrance of his residence after he published a text in which he criticised the growing trend of using symbols of Nazism in Novi Sad. Gruhonjic reported the case to the police, but is not optimistic that the case will be resolved and that the perpetrators will be adequately sanctioned. The Independent Journalists Association of Serbia condemned the attack:
“Gruhonjic was often targeted by nationalist politicians, many of whom are currently holding important state positions. We have witnessed before how such public statements nurture an atmosphere in which dissatisfied citizens publicly and without delay send threats and insults to newsrooms and journalists.” – Zeljko Bodrozic, president of IJAS.
- The deputies of the ruling majority in the National Assembly have published a statement addressing the independent media. A Serbian Progressive Party MP, Biljana Pantic Pilja, said that N1 and Nova S are examples of "anti-Serbian media". Other MPs joined such rhetoric and pointed out in their speeches that these channels take "anti-state" positions. Further insults were directed against prominent individuals, such as actress Jelisaveta Seka Sablic, whom MP Marko Atlagić blamed for a lack of patriotism, and against an actor and director who received a message from the same MP that he should leave Serbia. The Slavko Curuvija Foundation has called on the deputies to urgently stop the orchestrated targeting and verbal attacks of critics of the authorities. The foundation said:
“We are appalled by the daily abuse of the parliamentary rostrum, which launches... attacks on anyone who does not belong to the corps of ruling parties and their satellites: from opposition leaders, through independent regulatory bodies, civil society organisations and prominent artists, to doctors and journalists. Since the beginning of the work of the parliament in the new convocation... the Assembly has replaced its role of bearer of constitutional and legislative power with the role of heavy machinery in confrontation with all who dare to express different opinions.” (translated from Serbian).