Serbia’s lack of freedom of the press poses a fundamental structural problem on the path of achieving democracy writes Milica Cevetkovic.
According to the “Press Freedom Index”, Serbia is ranked 90th on the list of free media in the world. Bearing in mind that media freedom is one of the most important freedoms in democratic societies, the unfavorable situation in the field of press freedom is a huge problem in Serbia.
Serbia has become a place where practicing journalism is generally considered dangerous and in most cases not supported by the state. From the beginning of 2017, 57 journalists have been killed in Serbia.
Many media workers have been hurt in other ways only because they were doing their job. Just one example is the attack on the investigative journalist Milan Jovanovic, the editor of the independent publication Zig info, whose house was burned by unknown perpetrators
Threats to Independent Media
A small number of independent media outlets, such as KRIK, Danas, Nedeljnik among many others that function off of the donations of non-governmental organizations or personal sources of optimistic individuals are pretty much the only sources of unbiased information in Serbia. Since 2014 when the change in government occurred in Serbia, the situation for the media has deteriorated considerably.
The privatization of the media for the purpose of unbiased reporting in favor of the Serbian regime as well as the abolition of independent publications in order to disrupt investigative journalism have been prevalent.
A survey on media freedom in Serbia presented at the Center for the European Union assessed that political violence against the media as well as hate speech to which journalists are exposed almost daily is a huge obstacle for Serbia to become a member of the European Union. One of the main problems journalists encounter in Serbia is the slow reaction of institutions which often do not react to the threats that media workers receive. Administrative pressures faced by the local media as well as a generally unsafe environment for many journalists especially freelance as well as investigative journalists in smaller cities are very often unreported.
Serbians are Fighting for Free Press
Last week’s protest organized by journalists who gathered in front of the Government of the Republic of Serbia building was aimed at telling the authorities about the problems that media workers in Serbia face on a daily basis. Representatives of local media, independent journalists, as well as media workers employed by big state TV stations such as RTS or Studio B, saw the protest as an opportunity to testify to dissatisfaction and to try to democratically, with the help of representatives of the NGO sector and citizens, solve the current problem of media freedom in Serbia.
Young people in Serbia see the lack of democratization and universal freedom of speech as a major problem. However, individuals are using a bad situation as an opportunity to make a change in their local communities. Further, we cannot dismiss international efforts of Serbian youth to raise awareness on press freedom violations on the local and global level as well.
Participating at the European Youth Event in Strasbourg is an excellent opportunity for young people from Europe to advocate for their own country and represent its interests in front of the European Parliament and make their voice heard. Also, besides global forums such as EYE there are smaller initiatives, such as locally organized projects with the goal of preventing hate speech or open discussions with NGO activists and members of the European Union organizations.
Although significant changes have taken place in the past few years in the form of youth engagement for the improvement of media freedom in Serbia, I personally think that individuals’ initiatives are not enough to change the situation.
Without adequate support from the institutions and the system, it is impossible to expect significant change regarding the freedom of the press and the general rule of law and democratization in Serbia.
I think that as a society we have to understand that our rights are endangered and that we have to act in order to change the situation. If we ourselves do not become advocates for a better future oriented towards democratization and civil liberties within the boundaries of the law, we can not hope for a better future.