Serbia is fertile ground for Russian media and the law proposed by the Government of Serbia does not contribute to solving the problem of unreliable media content, reported the non-governmental organization Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Reporters without Borders have also called on the European Commission to take a firmer stance on this issue in its negotiations with Serbia to join the European Union.
“The influence of pro-Russian media content in Serbia is nothing new but the war in Ukraine has amplified the phenomenon. Although the government exercises a great deal of control over much of the Serbian media landscape, it seems to be doing nothing to resolve the problem of Russian propaganda through measures to encourage more reliable news and information. Despite being a candidate to join the EU, which has banned Russian propaganda outlets, Serbia continues to drag its feet on the reform of media regulation that it has undertaken to carry out before the European Commission. The long-awaited Law on Public Information and Media, currently the subject of public consultation, does not in any way resolve the problem of the lack of journalistic ethics in Serbia’s TV channels, and has been heavily criticized by local journalists’ associations”, the RSF notes.
In a March 2023 analysis, the Serbian think tank CRTA identified two pro-government channels, Pink TV and Happy TV, as particularly given to “manipulating information and spreading Russian war propaganda.” In Happy TV’s “Aktuelnosti,” one of Serbia’s most-watched news programmes, journalists comment on video footage from Russian or Western sources that is taken out of context and whose authenticity is never questioned. They even use the official Russian propaganda terminology of “special operation” and “forced conscription” to refer to the war in Ukraine. In April 2023, “Aktuelnosti” broadcast extracts from the video of a statement by a captured Ukrainian soldier.
However, as the RSF says, Pink TV, who up until May when two mass shootings took place in Serbia, was pro-Russian in its reporting, has staged an editorial U-turn and is now taking a pro-Western line that is openly backed by the owner. Imposed from the top, this sudden arbitrary change is symptomatic of the way journalists are denied editorial independence and are forced to serve business and political interests.
Since 2022, RSF has been urging the Serbian government to do everything possible to strengthen media independence and reliability. RSF’s recommendations are based above all on safeguards for media independence against any political interference, and the adoption of such mechanisms as the Journalism Trust Initiative, which RSF launched in 2021.
Serbia is ranked 91st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index.
(Vreme, RSF, 20.09.2023)
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