Serbia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Serbia

Serbia

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 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 protects freedom of the press, and the Public Information Law states that “no one may exert any form of physical or other pressure on a media outlet or its staff.” However, these and other laws protecting the media were not always enforced, and there were numerous instances of pressure on the media that went unpunished. Overall the media environment remained relatively unchanged in 2007. Conservative and nationalist elements in the government have proven to be less tolerant of media criticism. Libel remains a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment or fines up to US$18,000. There are concerns that the process through which the Republic Broadcasting Agency (RRA) grants broadcasting licenses is unfair and nontransparent. Compounding the problem is the complicated procedure for obtaining a license. In July, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of two television stations and six radio stations that were denied licenses in 2006. But the RRA ignored the ruling and upheld its own decision. The RRA was also criticized for interfering in the editorial decisions of the public broadcaster Radio Television Serbia (RTS) when it ordered RTS to broadcast daily parliamentary sessions in their entirety. The parliament controls the budget of the RRA. In 2006, BK Television, the first private television station, was shut down by the police for operating without a license; it resumed operations briefly in 2007 via satellite but was closed by the end of the year.

Media organizations and journalists were frequently the victims of harassment, vandalism, violence, and intimidation. In fact, in November the editor in chief of the daily Politika wrote that one of the wealthiest businessmen in Serbia had himself phoned journalists to criticize them for their coverage. In April, Dinko Gruhonjic, a BETA news agency correspondent and chairman of the Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina, received death threats after reporting on a neo-Nazi group. Separately, in August, the editor in chief of the independent broadcaster TNT, Stefan Cvetkovic, also reported receiving death threats allegedly in response to his station’s coverage of a police scandal. The independent broadcaster B92 and its journalists were frequently harassed, and its offices were vandalized throughout the year. On several occasions, nationalist political parties interrupted B92 broadcasts and staged demonstrations outside its offices, protesting its content. In April, a bomb exploded outside the Belgrade apartment of Dejan Anastasijevic, journalist for the weekly Vreme, following his critical report of a former Serbian paramilitary group. Such attacks have not been vigorously prosecuted. Local media operate in a more difficult environment, where local governments typically block journalists’ access to public information and cooperate mostly with state-owned media. In October, masked assailants simultaneously entered two television stations in Novi Pazar and at gunpoint halted the rebroadcast of an interview with an Islamic leader in Serbia. The International Press Institute has also recorded a number of other attacks against members of the media throughout the year.

Both broadcast and print media in Serbia are highly active and promote diverse views. However, the media environment remains somewhat politicized. Journalists at times practice self-censorship, and many avoid politically charged topics, including war crimes and the Kosovo status negotiations. Serbia’s broadcast and print media are for the most part privately owned. The government owns a stake in the daily Politika but has little direct editorial influence. Most local media, however, have yet to be privatized, and there is little support from local governments for these types of liberalization reforms. The public RTS was the dominant media source, operating two television stations and Radio Belgrade. While there are no government subsidies for private media, the state-owned media enjoy strong financial support from the government, as does the state-owned news agency, Tanjug. Media ownership in general remains somewhat nontransparent, with indications that some formal owners are a front for real interests behind the asset. Media ownership concentration has increased slightly with the growing presence of foreign firms. Internet access is unrestricted, though the government regularly monitors its content and only 14 percent of the population was able to receive information online in 2007.

The media environment in Kosovo is regulated by the UN Mission in Kosovo and the constitutional framework. The system of licensing broadcast media in Kosovo is complicated and inconsistent. The television regulator Temporary Media Commissioner is generally considered nontransparent. There were several reported incidents of violence during the year, including the assault of Vesna Bajicic, a Pristina-based correspondent for Voice of America. A masked assailant attacked Bajicic in her home, accusing her of “bias in favor of Albanians” in her reporting, and threatened to abduct her child and kill her if she continued. Journalists frequently complained of not being able to access public information. Although many media were able to sustain operations through aid donations, most struggled financially. As a result, editorial independence remains a weakness in Kosovo, with media adhering to business interests. Public broadcaster Radio Television Kosovo is particularly at the whim of political and economic interests. Public media have a financial advantage, as they are exempt from the value-added tax.