Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Letter

Media freedom in Serbia - President Vucic responds

  • Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic: "I will try - without any passion - to make a rational and decent response to what was written in an opinion piece full of accusations against Serbia in EUobserver." (Photo: Franz Johann Morgenbesser)

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.

But, I will try - without any passion - to make a rational and decent response to what was written in an opinion piece full of accusations against Serbia in EUobserver on 2 November.

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1. It is a complete falsehood that [the] media network became a subject of a disruptive state monopoly – on the contrary, we created a strategy, and - after so many years of so many reforms - we were the first government which, to the greatest extent, renounced its own involvement in media.

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.

It would be nice if many in the EU, as well as in Serbia, would agree whether they want us to shut down state-owned media, or they want us to be benevolent towards their work.

2) The author, 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.

3) Trevisan says that pressure is being exerted in various ways, among other things, through numerous court procedures against journalists.

I would like to inform you that more than 90 percent of the procedures that were initiated against journalists had taken place upon the requests of opposition leaders, and not of government representatives.

Personally, despite numerous insults, threats and slanders in the past six years, I have never filed a complaint against media and journalists. I believe that, in this way, I demonstrated how we should refer to and what the way for cherishing the differences is.

4) Additionally, I want to say that nobody has ever, and in anyway, shut down Vranjske Novine, even though their circulation was small in the market. And they were not facing any kind of pressure.

5) Further, in the article it is said that no solution was reached in cases of Dada Vujasinovic, Slavko Curuvija and Milan Pantic.

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 how 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 problems.

Getting better

Finally, I agree with you about one thing. The situation in Serbia, certainly, is not brilliant and 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.

Prime minister Ana Brnabic and myself are firm in showing political will to improve the situation in the media and to cooperate with relevant journalists and media associations in order to achieve that goal.

We invited the OSCE to facilitate the process, while journalists and media associations were asked to contribute by delegating members of the task force for designing a media strategy.

According to all media associations and unions the good news is that this document is being drafted, in a widely-inclusive process, which is satisfactory.

Of course, I hope that we will get support from the EU, and we are ready to work together with you and reach European standards.

Aleksandar Vucic is the president of the Republic of Serbia

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