Serbian weekly Vranjske novine will cease publishing, announced founder and editor-in-chief Vukasin Obradovic on 18 September. The paper claims it has been subject to intense political and economic pressures, including financial inspections allegedly aimed at compromising its finances. As a sign of protest, Obradovic had gone on hunger strike for a couple of days.
The European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ/IFJ) stand in solidarity with Vukasin Obradovic and join their affiliates in Serbia in denouncing the oppression many media and journalists are currently experiencing in the country.
According to the Independent Journalists’ Association (NUNS), Vranjske novine has been subjected to political and economic pressure since its creation in 1994, as the weekly is known for revealing abuse of public office, such as corruption and organised crime. Obradovic, his family and his colleagues experienced multiple non-investigated instances of harassment and persecution, ranging from repeated direct threats, car tampering, offices robbed, to inspections and controls leading to the economic suffocation of the newspaper, peaking this year.
A recent attempt to 16 August 2017 to inspect Vranjske beginning on 16 August 2017, was followed by an unexpected financial inspection on 4 September. NUNS states that although the inspections are legitimate, the question is whether they were prompted by the publication of an interview with a former Vranje Tax Authority head. Soon after the publication, Obradovic was warned off the record, to expect an inspection with the intention of harassing the newspaper.
In an open letter published on 21 September, Obradovic questions the tax administration authority about the situation of Vranjske novine:
“Since the establishment of the company, Vranjske has been operating in accordance with the law. We have regularly and duly paid our taxes and we have never changed the name of the newspaper or the publisher. In previous cases of state authorities’ controls, Vranjske always respected authorities’ decisions and acted upon the recommendations without interference.”
The Serbian journalists’ unions and associations are calling on the institutions to react promptly to Obradovic’s letter and to assure the public that the law is not implemented selectively and used as form of intimidation.
“This worrying news occurred along with other alarming events targeting in particular some investigative journalists. The Serbian government should make it clear that laws are being implemented consistently and all media and journalists treated equally. We call on the Serbian officials to condemn publicly the recent threats to media freedom and the attacks against the journalists’ integrity”, said EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregard.
IFJ president Philippe Leruth said: “The continuous attacks on Vranjske novine are a scandal for democracy in Serbia. We cannot tolerate that a well-respected weekly be under constant scrutiny and intimidation for just carrying out its tasks of informing Serbian citizens. We ask the Serbian government to do its utmost to guaranty a free and independent press in the country”.
Today, associations of journalists and media warned in a statement that the Serbian government entered a new brutal phase of oppression targeting the freedom of the media and intimidating the journalists, aiming to completely disable their watchdog role and silence any independent critical opinion:
“We are asking citizens and NGOs to take an active role in the struggle to defend freedom of the media and expression, since it is certainly not only the matter for media professionals, but a precondition to any democratic process. We are also asking international organisations to stop ignoring severe problems that journalists and media in Serbia are facing and to become actively involved in the protection of the democratic values that they have been promoting themselves.”
Vukasin Obradovic received many awards for his investigative work. In 2009, he was awarded OSCE media personality of the year. He was also President of NUNS, between 2010 and February 2017.
Credit photo: Media Centre Belgrade