European Federation of Journalists

Report: More than half of Serbian journalists experienced self-censorship

The 2023 Report on the state of media freedom and the safety of journalists in Serbia was published on 15 March 2024, assessing the pressure experienced by media professionals in the country. Entitled “Behind the headlines: Threats, attacks and pressure on journalists in Serbia”, the research was conducted in collaboration with the Journalists Association of Serbia (UNS) and the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (NUNS), with the support of the European Union and Council of Europe, based on a survey of 130 journalists and media workers.

The report presents the major challenges to the safety of Serbian journalists by examining the Serbian’s media environment through the perceptions and experiences of journalists. As journalists in Serbia are faced with digital violence and growing self-censorship, the reports aims at shedding light on unseen and underestimated pressures that are yet exercising a significant impact on their freedom to report. 

According to the report, 53.8% of the journalists said that they have already faced a situation where they decided not to report on a topic. The factors leading to this decision differ: 23,7% explained that they feared for their personal safety, 21,6% experienced ethical dilemmas about whether to report or not while pressure from employers or supervisors was mentionned by 17.5% of the respondents. As a result, 53,1% regretted this decision mainly because the public was deprived of important information.

The report also underscores journalists’ experiences of threats and violence. Institutional pressure is a form of threat encountered by most of journalists in their work (46,2%), such as preventing access to media events, abuse of the position of power of the competent authorities or discouraging questions. It is followed by economic pressure or job insecurity (40,2%) and verbal threats (30,5%). Nearly 30% said they were often or regularly targeted by smear campaigns. The data on SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) shows how widespread the issue is, as they were experienced frequently or regularly by 17,1% of the journalists.

The level of digital violence encountered by journalists in Serbia is also of great concern: 39,2% reported an experience of digital violence, the most common forms being trolling, cyberbullying and false impersonation. 

Finally, the report advocates for several recommendations both for the State authorities and the media sector to preserve the integrity of journalism and defend democratic values in Serbia. It requires stronger legal protection for journalists and call for improvement in public awareness and in promoting media freedom. 

Find additional information about the state of media freedom in Serbia in the latest 2023 Annual Report of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). Individual cases can be found on Mapping Media Freedom.