Inflammatory language from politicians sparks threats and attacks against journalists

Expression

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the conditions for independent journalism remain a serious concern in Serbia. This update covers a number of key incidents relating to freedom of expression which took place at the end of 2017 and at the start of 2018.

Aggression from Public Officials 

On 27th December 2017, Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojsa Stefanovic publicly labelled broadcaster N1 as "CIA and American TV" as a journalist attempted to interview the official. N1 responded to the accusations by emphasising the integrity of its management structure and affiliated individuals which are all publicly available on its website. 

In a separate incident, on 28th December 2017 a Serbian Progressive Party MP insulted a journalist over the phone following her questions about the bidding process for the purchase of agricultural machinery. MP Marijan Rističević verbally threatened award- winning journalist Slađani Gluščević who has investigated a number of irregularities regarding a government tender won by Rističević. After phoning the VOICE journalist, the MP proceeded to threaten and insult Gluščević in an attempt to coerce her into halting her investigation. In a statement following the incident, the journalist stated that: 

"This is further proof that journalists in Serbia are constantly exposed to pressures and insults".

The Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) also called upon Rističević to apologise for his alleged behaviour. In addition, UNS also drew attention to the worrying frequency with which independent or critical media outlets are slandered by public officials when under investigation or scrutiny. 

In early 2018, the harassment of journalists continued. Prominent journalist Dragan Janjic received over 300 threats on social media after Serbian politician in Kosovo, Oliver Ivanović, was gunned down in Mitrovica on 16th January 2018. Ivanović's murder came at a time when Kosovo and Serbia had recently begun talks about normalising ties between the two nations and de-escalating the tensions over Kosovo's independence. Journalist Dragan Janjic became the victim of abuse after taking to social media to decry the murder of Ivanović as politically motivated and calling for an immediate, impartial investigation into the shooting. Despite these relatively innocuous comments, Janjic was singled out for criticism by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić during a press conference shortly after Ivanović's murder. Serbian President Vučić used the conference to condemn Janjic's comments, which allegedly provoked the online attacks against the journalist. The situation increased in severity after Janjic's home address was circulated, leading to fears for his family's safety. Media freedom watchdogs as well as the political opposition joined the calls denouncing the threats against Janjic and strongly criticised President Vučić's role in insulting media workers. Many onlookers claim that the episode is another instance in an increasingly predictable pattern of Serbian politicians contributing to violence and threats against journalists through their own defamatory language. 

Threats and Smear Campaigns against Journalists 

Journalists and activists have also experienced interference, harassment and threats of physical violence. Below are some recent examples of key incidents wherein journalists have been targeted as a result of their work.

On 5th December 2018, Marija Antić received a barrage of death threats on social media after interviewing a French-Serbian activist about his role in far-right movements. Antić, a journalist working for the outlet N1, was threatened after interviewing Arnaud Gouillon, who is well known for his advocacy for Serbs in Kosovo. The journalist also questioned his links with far-right movements. Although in the interview, Gouillon denied any links to the far-right Identity Movement in France, two days later it was revealed that he had been a speaker at the Movement's conference in 2012 during which participants held offensive protests against Muslims. With the death threats and threats of sexual violence, Antić's case has increased concerns over the unacceptable treatement of female journalists in Serbia.