European Federation of Journalists

Serbia must avoid creating hostile environment for investigative journalists #BIRNunderFire

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has received worrying reports concerning a smear campaign against independent and investigative journalists working for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), the Centre for Investigative Journalist (CINS) and the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) in Serbia.

According to BIRN Serbia, the Serbian Prime minister Aleksandar Vucic publicly supported “the theory that independent investigative centres in Serbia are paid by foreign donors to destabilise the government” and the prime minister “is using his position to dismiss opponents, qualifying them as mobsters, thieves and criminals despite no evidence or opportunity for them to defend themselves. This creates an atmosphere where unpredictable and sometimes lethal consequences exist.” BIRN Serbia has created a specific page to collect and report about all the attacks against the network.

Making a reference to the IFJ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists, Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, EFJ President, is expressing his solidarity with affected journalists and is reminding that “journalist shall regard as grave professional offence calumny, libel, unfounded accusations”. Further, EFJ President calls on the Serbian authorities “to avoid creating a hostile environment for journalists and media workers who already suffer from the poor working conditions in Serbia.”

Commenting the news, Dragana Cabarkapa, President of SINOS (Journalists Union of Serbia, IFJ-EFJ affiliate) said “the media scene in Serbia is in absolute chaos. The pro-governmental media is engaged in a campaign to demonize BIRN, CINS and KRIK by publishing on a daily basis articles to discredit critical voices. The media have been transformed into a weapon of hidden media-owners close to the power and journalism sinking into complete darkness.”

NUNS (Independent Journalists Association of Serbia, IFJ-EFJ affiliate) also share this comment about the case : “This public smear campaign against BIRN, CINS and KRIK is a form of pressure against all those who practice critical and investigative journalism in Serbia. Data about financing of these organisations are available to each individual, media and state body. All funds received by BIRN, CINS and KRIK are aimed at advancing investigative journalism in Serbia an have been commissioned to them through public calls for proposals. NUNS(IJAS) view is that these organisations significantly contribute to quality of media scene in Serbia, their work has no political connotations and their journalists are are guided by the highest professional standards. Bringing BIRN, CINS an KRIK in connection to political developments in Serbia represents not only an attack on these organisations, but pressure on all journalists who do their job in line with highest professional and ethical standards”.

As mentioned by the latest EU Progress Report 2015, Serbian authorities should in particular “create an enabling environment in which freedom of expression can be exercised without hindrance; threats, physical assaults and cases of incitements to violence against journalists and bloggers should be reacted to and publicly condemned” and “statements by state officials in relation to investigative work of journalists have not been conducive to creating an environment in which freedom of expression can be exercised without hindrance”.

Photo : #BIRNunderFire