Last Friday, EUobserver published a piece by Italian journalist Matteo Trevisan, which focused on the problems media face in Serbia. Soon after, Serbian President Vucic released his reaction to Trevisan’s article.
In his article, Trevisan, a freelance journalist in Bologna specializing in human rights and ethnic conflicts in the post-socialist enlargement of the EU, highlighted several key challenges for Serbian media: state influence, non-transparent financing, work of independent institutions and attacks on the journalists.
In response to Trevisan’s criticism about the poor media freedoms in Serbia, Vucic said; “As the president of Serbia I have rarely reacted on media attacks against the country I lead, because I have always, it seems to me, understood well that each different opinion and criticism serve for changing things quickly in our country, for improving ourselves, and for providing normal functioning and full respect for democratic norms and laws.”
“In addition to the murky and arbitrary redistribution of public funds in favour of government media, unknown candidates with no connection to the press are often elected to command the most influential commissions. And some of the most influential publishers are still illegally financed at a state level”, Trevisan wrote.
He gave the example of the national news agency Tanjug, which still operates even though it was officially closed down in October 2015. According to him, it has become a “propaganda tool owned by the state”.
To that Vucic responds:” You mention the Tanjug case, the very same agency for which those same independent journalists published an obituary in their newspapers, on the day it was closed regarding the termination of operation of that state agency. Today, when the respective agency operates, speaking the truth, without state support, it’s once again our fault – of the state, government, and mine, as the president.”
In reply to Trevisan’s claims that journalists in Serbia have been also physically assaulted, the Serbian President says:”Matteo Trevisan says that physical assaults against journalists are the tip of the iceberg, and I’m asking you: which is the country in the EU that has fewer assaults against journalists than Serbia, not counting brutal assaults of the representatives of the opposition against female journalists of the TV Pink – Goca Uzelac and Mara Dragic? Please, respond me concretely which EU country is the one that had fewer physical assaults against journalists, with concrete data.”
Trevisan also mentioned the unsolved murders of the journalists Dada Vujasinovic, Slavko Curuvija and Milan Pantic, to which Vucic commented:” Those people were killed 30, 20 and 15 years ago. The so-called democratic ruling power you speak so nicely about hadn’t moved either of these cases from a standstill. Despite fighting ghosts from the past, the indictment was raised and the apprehension of the accused is almost finalised. Also, for almost three years I’ve been listening to how the killings of journalists would take place in Serbia, and meanwhile journalists were killed in Malta, Slovakia, Bulgaria, wounded in Montenegro, while in Serbia (not counting the injuries of Gordana Uzelac, inflicted by the opposition members) there was no one with such serious injuries.”
“I do understand that I am an easy target for anyone who wants to attack Serbia for the media situation, first of all, because of a brief participation in Milosevic’s government, 20 years ago, but I would ask all of them to use facts – and not a mantra which was set as the only way for attacking Serbia, which is economically significantly improving, whose reputation is rising worldwide, and which is trying to resolve important regional political problem,”, Vucic added.
In conclusion, he agreed with Trevisan that the situation in Serbia was not brilliant and added:” There are many things that we need to do in order to make it better. Precisely, that is why it is important for the state to continue to cooperate with all the media representatives and unions”. He also said that PM Brnabic and himself were “firm in showing the political will to improve the situation in the media and to cooperate with relevant journalists and media associations in order to achieve that goal.”
This post is also available in: Italiano