„Authorities in Serbia are trying to destroy the credibility of journalists and ensure that a small number of people see their stories,” writes The New York Times.
From Poland in the north to Serbia in the south, Eastern Europe has become fertile ground for new forms of censorship that do not involve brutal force, but softer, more effective means of shaping public opinion in favour of government structures, the American newspaper reports.
When Covid-19 reached Eastern Europe in the spring of 2020, a Serbian journalist reported a severe shortage of masks and other protective equipment. She was swiftly arrested, thrown in a windowless cell and charged with inciting panic. The journalist, Ana Lalic, was quickly released and even got a public apology from the government in what seemed like a small victory against old-style repression by Serbia’s authoritarian president, Aleksandar Vucic, the New York Times said.
But Ms. Lalic was then vilified for weeks as a traitor by much of the country’s news media, which are becoming increasingly controlled by Mr. Vucic and his allies as Serbia adopts tactics favoured by Hungary and other states now in retreat from democracy across Europe’s formerly communist eastern fringe.
“For the whole nation, I became a public enemy,” she recalled. Serbia no longer jails or kills critical journalists, as happened under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. It now seeks to destroy their credibility and ensure few people see their reports.
The muting of critical voices has greatly helped Mr. Vucic — and also the country’s most well-known athlete, the tennis star Novak Djokovic, whose visa travails in Australia have been portrayed as an intolerable affront to the Serb nation. The few remaining outlets of the independent news media mostly support him but take a more balanced approach.”
Serbia and Hungary – countries in the vanguard of what V-Dem Institute, a Swedish research group, described last year as a “global wave of autocratization”- both hold general elections in April, votes that will test whether media control works.
A recent Birodi survey of news reports on Serbian television found that over a three-month period from September, Mr. Vucic was given more than 44 hours of coverage, 87 percent of it positive, compared with three hours for the main opposition party, 83 percent of which was negative.
Nearly all of the negative coverage of Mr. Vucic appeared on N1, an independent news channel that broadcast Ms. Lalic’s Covid-19 reports. But a bitter war for market share is playing out between the cable provider that hosts N1 — Serbian Broadband, or SBB — and the state-controlled telecommunications company, Telekom Srbija.
(Al Jazeera Balkans, 18.01.2022)
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