Freedom of the Press

Serbia

Serbia

Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

39

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

17

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

9

The constitution of the newly independent Serbia, adopted in October 2006, provides for freedom of the press. However, the government, media owners, local officials, and businessmen continue to place undue pressure on journalists. Libel remains a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment or fines of up to US$13,800. In August, a senior editor at local television channel RTV Kursumlija received a suspended four-month prison sentence after the station aired viewers’ text messages that were critical of a local official. In October, despite international criticism and objections from local nongovernmental organizations, the Parliament adopted controversial amendments to the Broadcasting Law. The legislation made Serbia’s Republic Broadcasting Agency (RBA) financially and politically dependent on the government, since it required the government to approve the budget of the agency’s nominally independent council. The changes also limited broadcasters’ ability to appeal council decisions and required them to carry out the council’s directives. Furthermore, the amendments gave the council greater latitude to deny commercial broadcasting licenses. The licenses themselves would entail the payment of substantial fees, and the RBA had already been criticized for carrying out its licensing procedures in a discriminatory way. In April, the council had temporarily suspended the license of the private BK television station. Local media watchdog organizations reported that the suspension was a direct attack on opposition politician and BK owner Bogoljub Karic. However, the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in May.

Both broadcast and print media in Serbia are highly active and promote diverse views. However, news outlets operate with a significant level of politicization, which increased toward the end of the year as the fall constitutional referendum and the January 2007 parliamentary elections approached. Journalists at times practice self-censorship, and many avoid politically charged topics, such as Serbia’s failure to comply with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, negotiations on the future status of the UN-administered province of Kosovo, and the May 2006 referendum on Montenegrin independence. Media organizations and journalists were again the victims of harassment, intimidation, and physical violence in 2006. Employees of the private broadcaster B92 were threatened throughout the year. Most incidents involving extralegal intimidation and physical violence against journalists occurred in smaller towns. Local police often failed to properly investigate attacks on journalists, and on several occasions, local officials and police blocked journalists’ access to public documents or events. The 2001 murder of journalist Milan Pantic and the 1999 murder of Slavko Curuvija remain unresolved, and investigations into both crimes have stalled.

Serbia’s broadcast and print media are for the most part privately owned. The government owns a stake in the oldest and best-selling daily, Politika, but has little direct editorial influence. The state still controls Radio Television Serbia, and reports indicate that the broadcaster, which operates three nationwide television stations and a radio station, has a slight pro-government bias. Media ownership concentration has increased slightly with the growing presence of foreign firms. Internet access is unrestricted, but authorities selectively monitor e-mail and other online communications for the 14 percent of the population that use the medium.

The media environment in Kosovo is regulated by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the constitutional framework. While UNMIK, the NATO-led Kosovo Force, and Kosovo’s Provisional Institutions of Self-Government largely uphold press freedom, the media face a difficult operating environment owing to political pressure and financial difficulties. In January 2006, the Parliament passed legislation transferring authority over the public broadcaster, Radio Television Kosovo, from UNMIK to local government control and placed its budget under the direct control of the Ministry of Finance. Journalists faced indirect pressure and were offered bribes in exchange for positive coverage. Throughout the year, journalists were the victims of violence and harassment. In September, a reporter with the daily Lajm Ekskluzive was assaulted by a security officer in the Kosovo assembly building. Lack of advertising funds leaves media outlets vulnerable to editorial pressure from government and business interests. The Pristina branch of the Albanian newspaper Bota Sot was closed down in November for failing to pay taxes, reducing the number of daily newspapers in Kosovo to nine. Media operating with foreign financial aid were more editorially independent and expressed a wider range of views, but they remained vulnerable to future fluctuations in foreign assistance.