Following the recent media stage black out in Serbia to warn against Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic‘s muzzling of the press, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)’s Steering Committee meeting yesterday (9 October 2017) in Brussels discussed how to best support its affiliates to resist such mounting pressure and coordinate successful advocacy at European and international level.
“We ask the European Commission and in particular EU Commissioner Hahn, responsible for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, to be firm and coherent when it comes to enforcement of European standards of freedom of expression and media freedom in Serbia” said Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ President.
In the latest EU Enlargement report on Serbia (2016), the Commission said that Serbia has “achieved some level of preparation” but still needs to “create an enabling environment in which freedom of expression can be exercised without hindrance.”
Maja Vasić-Nikolić, the representative of the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (IJAS-NUNS) explained how journalists are intimidated in Serbia. She pledged the EFJ to exert pressure both on the authorities in Serbia but also on International organisations including the European Union, the Council of Europe and OSCE to allow journalists in Serbia to simply do their job and to report to the public without any fear.
According to NUNS/IJAS database of incidents against journalists, new trends indicate a shift from physical assaults to pressures including surveillance, court procedures, administrative harassment, public statements by officials against journalists, economic pressures. In short, an environment that does not allow independent media to exist and that has given rise to self-censorship among journalists. Research show that 73% of journalists see self-censorship as a dominant factor among colleagues.
The Steering Committee agreed to send an international mission to Serbia to shed more light to the state of the media in Serbia, which has worsened in recent years and invited also the Council of Europe and the OSCE Media representative to continue their pressure on the government of Aleksandar Vučić. Critics say Western officials have turned a blind eye to Vucic’s stifling of democratic freedoms in Serbia as long as he cooperated in maintaining stability in the volatile Balkans.
In 2017, the EFJ together with the IFJ tabled five alerts on Serbia to the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists with no reply from the CoE Member States Serbia.
The EFJ published several press releases on Serbia this year reflecting the dramatic deterioration, including the closure of the Serbian weekly Vranjske novine and the hunger strike by its founder and editor-in-chief Vukasin Obradovic.
Picture credit: NUNS.