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Izabela Kisić, Executive director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia

Mockery of Journalists Continues

Author: Safeta Biševac

April 6, 2015, Danas

Belgrade – In the 2014 annual report currently being prepared by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, it is stated that the trend of violation of media freedoms continues at “accelerated pace […], which resulted in the suppression of public debate on important social, economic and political problems and processes.”

Executive director of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia Izabela Kisić said that the recent OSCE conference on the protection of safety and integrity of journalists, which was organized by the Serbian OSCE Chairmanship, implies a possible turn in the state treatment of the media. Helsinki Committee and more than 60 civil society organizations from OSCE member states formed a “parallel” OSCE network.


* Ministers Dačić and Tasovac said at the conference that media freedoms are Serbian priority and promised the implementation of media legislation. Prime Minister Vučić met with OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović. Given your current experience, do you think that Serbia will fulfill these promises?

- It’s a good thing that we heard this and that Vučić and Mijatović finally met, and the civil society will constantly remind the government of those promises. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media is brave and direct and she already stated many important facts about media freedoms. The problem is that many people have not heard her message. The mockery of journalists in Serbia continues and the Prime Minister still gets agrivated by journalists’ questions. Given everything that has happened over the past three years and the original radical policies of the Serbian Progressive Party, it is hard to believe in changes. It is interesting that pro-regime media are anti-European. This is evident from their reporting about human rights, freedoms, the wartime past, etc. and the “blows” are directed at pro-European media and journalists.


* Minister Tasovac said at the OSCE conference that journalists and media should look into the mirror. What is the fault of journalists for the media situation?

- Someone from the government should be the last person to speak about this topic. However, this is the fundamental question for media professionals and civil society. Media also have their own commercial and other interests, which are not always in accordance with the citizens’ interests. There are also media tycoons and elites. A positive development is that journalists and editors of serious media started to speak about their own responsibility in public forums over the past year. These voices are still weak, but they are receiving support from colleagues. All responsibility was shifted to tabloids for years. What we need now are professional educated journalists who are ready to rebel within their editorial staff in order to put some topics on the agenda and to professionally and systematically analyze them. In other words, a rebellion in the media profession is needed, as well as resistance to control and dictatorship. Therein lies the key to changes in the media landscape.


* The media landscape is most often described with the terms censorship and self-censorship. Is this the only or the most important problem?

- I would like to emphasize first that control mechanisms are sophisticated and not exclusive in the local context. Moreover, two fundamental human rights are being violated – the right to information and freedom of expression. Simulations of public debates are organized. We live in a social turmoil and most media are superficial in their choice of topics. Changes are bypassing us, as was the case during the ‘90s. Control mechanisms are not only related to the media, they also exist in culture and society as a whole. For example actors have been attacked for participating in plays and film that the government deems provocative and artists have been let go because of their social activism. These are not just incidents; it is a serious trend of violations of artistic freedoms.


* A package of three media laws was adopted last year, in accordance to the 2011 Media Strategy and EU standards – the Law on Public Information and Media, the Law on Electronic Media and the Law on Public Service Broadcasting. Will they improve the media landscape?

- Our laws were drafted with a significant assistance of the EU and OSCE and with enormous internal resistance from the government and the media. It is a misconception to think that laws are sufficient guarantee of media freedoms. Even if they are consistently implemented, there has to be an actual willingness of the people in power to “keep their hands off of the media”. For example, laws do not address the influence of advertisment agencies which are close to the parties in power, nor do they have an effect on the threats against journalists. Freedom of the media is closely related to the readiness to accept the right to a different opinion, right to criticize and rebel against something. The laws were adopted in August, and Prime Minister has since acted contrary to the laws. One of the most important novelties in the Law on Public Information is the financing of public interests, which is of course very broadly defined. What is a public interest for this government? Writing about war crimes is obviously not an interest of this government, but I would say that it is quite important for the citizens of Serbia and their future.


Privatization does not guarantee independence

* You are advocating for the termination of privatization of the media. The sale of numerous local media is announced, including Belgrade TV Studio B, Tanjug… Has privatization not contributed much to the improvement of media landscape?

- Privatization is necessary, but it is not a guarantee of independence. This is clear not only from our case, but also from other Eastern European countries. In the competitive media and other markets, small professional media which guarantee the existence of media pluralism can hardly survive. They thus either resort to commercialization and adjustment of content to the mainstream trends, or they simply disappear. In the privatization process, the media are usually purchased by people close to the party in power. On the other hand, the example of the national broadcaster TV Pink best demonstrates how the editorial concept in private media can easily and quickly be adjusted to the new government. Private conglomerates define the media landscapes in EU countries. In some countries they consist of two or three media groups, while in other countries – such as Italy – they consist of one media group. Independent intellectuals and journalists, who, in similar situations in the past, have started newspapers, now transfer to online media.



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