Serbia: RSF’s ten recommendations to newly elected officials to strengthen press freedom and the reliability of information

As today, April 11, 23 years have passed since the assassination of the investigative journalist Slavko Curuviya, the perpetrators are still not convicted. The four defendants, one of whom is on the run, will soon be tried on appeal. Emblematic of impunity for crimes committed against journalists in Serbia, the Slavko Curuvija case also embodies the threats that his colleagues still face, as he did before his assassination: accusations of being a public enemy, defamation, surveillance and attacks. Moreover, as in 1999, independent media must compete with media that broadcast propaganda, most recently on the war in Ukraine.

The presidential and legislative elections – which took place on April 3 in this tense context – could be an opportunity to breathe new life into the defense of reliable and quality journalism. While the election results are yet to be confirmed, RSF submits ten specific political, legal and regulatory recommendations – prepared in cooperation with Serbian experts – for public debate and implementation by the future president, the prime minister and the members of parliament.

The war in Ukraine has reminded both Serbia and the rest of Europe of the vital importance of reliable news and information for our security,says Pavol Szalai, head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk. As for the assassination of Slavko Curuvija, it is a reminder of the threats and impunity faced by those who have taken up the torch of his professionalism and journalistic independence.

We call on those elected in Serbia’s presidential and parliamentary elections to take up this historic challenge and adopt strong proactive policies on the right to information and freedom of the press. If politicians take ownership of our recommendations, they will strengthen both Serbia’s prospects for EU membership and the ability of the European project to withstand global threats..”

RSF’s ten proposals for those elected to the Serbian elections

A. Active political defense of freedom of the press and the right to information

1. Systematically and publicly condemn defamation attempts and verbal attacks, especially when perpetrated by politicians, including members of their own parties.

2. Demonstrate zero tolerance for politicians who attack the media. This includes suspending them or having them resign from important positions.

3. Answer all questions and requests for information from the media in a fair manner. This will contribute to pluralistic, honest and balanced media coverage.

4. Propose legislation which extends access to information held by the state (Freedom of Information Act) and protects journalists against SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, SLAPPs).

B. A judicial system that protects journalists

5. Ensure that prosecutors receive binding instructions to take urgent action in the event of violence against journalists and the media, and to ensure that they carry out these instructions promptly and regularly.

6. Allocate adequate financial and human resources to the commission investigating the murders of journalists Slavko Curuviya, Radislava Dada Vujasinovic and Pantic Milanand provide the commission with unlimited access to state documentation, in order to resolve these cases and bring them to justice.

7. Ensure that the commission’s investigations in these killings result in effective prosecution (indictment) by the prosecutor’s office.

C. A regulatory framework that promotes media independence

8. Ensure that the Electronic Media Regulator (EMR) is impartial and effectivein particular by:

  • reduce the proportion of members of the REM Council appointed by political authorities;
  • make EMN decision-making more transparent, in particular by improving the public availability of its decisions on its website, and by making its meetings open to the public via live streaming;
  • give the REM the power to suspend licenses and allow public debate on a proposal to extend the powers of the REM so that it can impose fines on the media.

9. Allocate government subsidies to the media fairly ensuring that:

  • the members of the jury who select the recipients of government grants are qualified;
  • grants are only awarded to media that comply with the Code of Ethics for Journalists, that the Press Council is involved in the decision-making process and that it takes into account a European standard of professional journalistic procedures, such as the Journalism Trust Initiative launched by RSF;
  • the jury’s decision-making process is transparent, in particular its selection criteria, and that the records of the jury’s decisions are published regularly.

10. Assign National Broadcast Frequencies Transparently and free from political influence and only to media that abides by the Code of Ethics for Journalists.

Serbia is ranked 93rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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