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Protests in Belgrade and violence in reality shows

Protests in Belgrade and violence in reality shows

After the massacres of recent weeks, street demonstrations continue against the government and above all the media, which according to critics have created a climate of intolerance and violence over the years.

By Massimo Moratti

Originally published by OBCT, also available in ITA

Protests continue in Belgrade. The demonstrations of May 8, 12, and 19 were followed by others on May 26 and 27, organised by the government and the opposition respectively.


The demonstrations managed to bring tens of thousands of people to the streets and block the main arteries of the Serbian capital. If initially composure and pain for the victims of the massacres that have marked the country in recent weeks prevailed, the protests have gradually articulated specific requests to the government, which so far has refused to respond.


Some concern the situation of the media in Serbia and the passivity of the institutions in countering the violence present in the media space. Protesters ask for a ban on media and tabloids that promote violence and hatred, and for an end to programmes – such as some reality shows – that promote aggressive, violent, and immoral behaviour, and finally for the resignation of the entire media regulator institution (REM).


The connection between the massacres and the demands of the protests in Belgrade

While at the moment it seems difficult to find a direct causal link between the mass massacres and the demands of protesters, the accusations leveled against the government are those of having created a media system that not only tolerates, but actually promotes violence.


This connection emerges clearly in the case of the second massacre. The perpetrator of the Mladenovac massacre had as his idol a certain Aleksandar “Kristijan” Golubović, a well-known protagonist of some reality shows, including “Zadruga”, broadcast on Pink television.


Golubović’s “curriculum” speaks volumes: multiple offender for drugs and armed robberies, MMA fighter, he boasted, rightly or wrongly, of friendships with characters such as Arkan, a notorious paramilitary leader during the conflicts of the 90s, and Ulemek “Legija”, the person responsible for the killing of Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić.


In recent years, Golubović has become a star of reality shows that competed for him and the protagonist of numerous episodes of violence, insults, fights, including strangling his partner until she was knocked unconscious. Golubović’s is not an isolated case, similar episodes abound in reality shows and on Serbian television. In addition to common criminals on reality TV, war criminals are also regularly hosted in talk shows as experts on geopolitics or military matters in what is a real glorification of violence.


The role of private TVs

Private television stations RTV Pink and Happy TV are most likely to broadcast reality shows and violence. Nonetheless, last July these two television station were assigned a national frequency for the second consecutive time.


This was criticised by civil society and trade associations: the numerous complaints for incitement to hatred and violence had not been taken into account by the REM which reassigned the frequencies to RTV Pink and Happy TV as well as B92 and Prva TV, two other private TVs, still close to the government but whose contents have not attracted the same criticisms as RTV Happy and Pink.


This decision was also criticised in the progress report on Serbia’s EU accession and by the ODIHR report on the 2022 elections, which had underlined how the REM had tolerated violations of the electoral campaign rules by the four nationwide televisions.


In recent years, Happy and Pink have often been at the centre of controversy and scandals, but have never been subject to significant sanctions. The reason for this, most likely, is that these broadcasters have a very close link with politics and are essentially considered personal instruments of political power in Serbia and in particular of President Vučić, who is a regular guest: one of Vučić’s first TV appearances after the massacres was on Happy TV.


In this perspective, as highlighted by the lecturers of the Faculty of Political Sciences Jelena Đorđević and Rade Veljanovski in an interview for Radio Slobodna Evropa, the violence in media tones and contents is nothing but the reflection of the political discourse and, at the same time, these stations are the pillars on which the Vučić regime relies, in a similar way to what happened in the 1990s with state television.


The comments of the REM and of the TV stations

In front of the demands of the protests, the REM has taken defensive positions. In a statement released on May 11, President Olivera Zekić said that while their resignations should be discussed in Parliament, we should also discuss how a part of society and the media wants to blame the REM for these terrible tragedies in Serbia.


Zekić then reiterated that the repeated attacks against the REM are not only shameful, but could even lead to further violence. The president’s statements were followed by similar statements by REM vice-president Milorad Vukašinović a few days later: “I fear that the instigators of the attacks against the integrity of the REM […] are in the headquarters of some media”. Pressed later on the role of Kristijan Golubović on television, Vukašinović replied that media regulators cannot limit the rights of citizens who have already served sentences, unless this is provided for by these sentences.


However, another member of the REM, Judita Popović, admitted that for years the media have favoured incitement to hatred, violence, and discrimination and that no one has reacted, but in fact certain media have been rewarded with national frequencies. Resignations are not enough, said Popović, REM members should be held responsible for certain situations.


The words of the members of the REM were echoed by the Minister of Information, Mihailo Jovanović, who rejected as unacceptable the demands to close both RTV Pink and Happy TV, as such requests would be contrary to freedom of expression, a fundamental pillar of any democratic society.


A hint of self-criticism comes from Željko Mitrović, the owner of Pink, who entered the house where the “Zadruga” reality show is held and announced that this is the last season of the reality show, which will change from next year. Subsequently, Mitrović himself announced that “Zadruga” will cease to be broadcast within ten days at the latest and that this was a request made by Vučić himself. We will see if the words will be followed by deeds.



The protests are creating a lot of nervousness within the Serbian government and seem to focus on the passivity of the REM and the sensationalist approach of private national televisions, which are often the favorite stage of the SNS, the president’s party.


The REM and the Minister of Information have hidden behind a formal approach of defense of the institutions and freedom of the right of expression, without however emphasising how the same right of expression must be regulated within Serbian society. In this sense, an article by the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Serbia (CINS) is illuminating, which explains that the problems do not arise from the fact that the regulations are not adequate but from the fact that they are not applied.


For example, in January of this year alone, within the famous reality show “Zadruga”, there were more than ten controversial episodes as documented in a complaint filed by the Institute for Media and Diversity (MDI). This complaint has not been acted upon: in the last 5 years the REM has not ordered any measures against RTV Pink for its problematic contents and this happens because the law is not applied adequately and broadcasts with high audience ratings such as reality shows they are considered untouchable. As demonstrated by the CINS, the REM has remained silent in these cases. And it is precisely against this silence that citizens are now protesting.

This article was published as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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The team of journalists at KRIK. Credit: Oliver Bunic (NIN) Library

Serbia: Legal harassment of investigative media outlet KRIK must…

Serbia: Legal harassment of investigative media outlet KRIK must stop

The legal harassment against Serbian investigative media outlet KRIK continues as the portal was convicted for reporting on a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) case it was facing, at the same time as a new abusive lawsuit has been filed against it.

We, international press freedom and journalists’ organisations, stand in solidarity with KRIK’s newsroom, which is currently fighting 12 legal proceedings, and raise the alarm about the use of SLAPPs in Serbia, considered as a growing threat to independent journalism.


In recent months, KRIK has been facing multiple lawsuits as a result of public interest investigations exposing crime, corruption and other abuses of power committed by powerful people in Serbia, often affiliated with the ruling party.


The latest alarming development came from the Belgrade High Court on 3 May. In a first instance decision, the court condemned KRIK for naming in an article the individuals who sued them – police commander Goran Zivkovic and two of his colleagues from the Witness Protection Unit. In the article published in December 2021, the media outlet detailed the avalanche of lawsuits it is currently fighting: namely who brought the cases, on what grounds and their impact on the whole editorial team. As a result, KRIK must pay 374,200 dinars (almost 3,200 €) in compensation for “emotional pain” and for trial expenses. The court also ruled that part of KRIK’s web article must be deleted. KRIK has appealed.


In a reaction to the verdict, KRIK’s editor Stevan Dojčinović said SLAPPs are the outlet’s biggest challenge: “this latest ruling makes it clear that SLAPPs have become the regime’s main tool for shutting down the few remaining independent media outlets. Things have gone so far that we are no longer even allowed to complain in public about the fact that our newsroom is flooded with lawsuits – we are found guilty even for that.”


On 11 May 2023, KRIK reported that the media outlet is facing a new lawsuit in response to an article published on 11 April 2023. The lawsuit was filed by Nikola Petrović against KRIK’s editor and investigative reporters Bojana Jovanović and Dragana Pećo. He demanded the removal of the article and is seeking 200,000 dinars (1,700€) in compensation for “mental suffering”. Nikola Petrović has filed two other lawsuits against KRIK: one ended in favour of KRIK and the other is still pending.


This case is the last in a series of 12 lawsuits initiated in most cases by people from the government or businessmen close to them. The amount of damages claimed is completely disproportionate and exceeds by three times the organisation’s annual budget. While the financial burden is huge, the negative impact on the day-to-day operations is equally significant. The time spent on preparing the defence, presenting the evidence, analysing hundreds of pages of legal documents is effectively taking journalists away from their core work: investigating and informing citizens. 


SLAPPs threaten the future of independent journalism – aiming to intimidate, drain resources and isolate reporters so they abandon their hard-hitting investigations. We, the undersigned organisations, renew our support to the KRIK journalists and call on the Serbian judicial authorities to finally acknowledge SLAPPs as a means to silence voices and suppress information of public interest. Serbia continues to provide one of the most fertile grounds in Europe for suing journalists in retaliation for their work. By failing to recognise the threats posed by SLAPPs, the latest court decision sends a worrying signal to all Serbian journalists who investigate sensitive political and economic issues. We hope that the appeal process will consider the serious impact of SLAPPs against journalists, and will finally uphold the public interest and international standards on freedom of expression.

Signed by:

  • Blueprint for Free Speech
  • Civic Initiatives
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • Index on Censorship
  • Institute for Mass Media Cyprus
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Justice for Journalists Foundation
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
  • PEN International 
  • Reporters Sans Frontières / Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • SafeJournalists Network
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Solomon

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Serbia’s Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM). Photo via Cenzolovka/Jana Nikolić (Media Pluralism Serbia) Library

Media pluralism in a legal limbo in Serbia

Media pluralism in a legal limbo in Serbia

The allocation of national broadcasting frequencies in Serbia highlights the lack of transparency and pluralism in the sector. Frequencies are only awarded to government-friendly media. Concerns have been expressed by both the European Commission and the European Parliament.

By Massimo Moratti

Originally published by OBCT, also available in ITA

The issue of the public allocation of national broadcasting frequencies in Serbia seems to have come to a public halt, after a few important developments in the past months that have shown how contentious this issue is and exposed the weaknesses of the institutional framework of Serbia.


The usual suspects receive (again) the national TV frequencies

The whole dispute started on 29 July 2022 when Serbia’s Electronic Media Regulatory Body (REM) awarded the four national broadcasting frequencies for a period of eight years to the same four televisions (Happy, Pink, B92 and Prva) that had previously received them. The allocation occurred in spite of the numerous shortcomings in the performance of these televisions, including at least 12,000 violations of the advertising act in the previous years and of the fact that several reports for hate speech and violence were filed against them.  The award decision started a public outcry and attracted severe criticism by local and international stakeholders since these televisions are all known to be supportive of the SNS, the Serbian Progressive Party, currently in power in Serbia. National and international press freedom organisations considered the process of allocation of the frequencies to be in violation of the principle of pluralism of the public broadcasting organisations and of the principles on the allocation of licences.  Few days later, the REM announced that a fifth national frequency would be allocated and that the whole process would be over by the end of the autumn.


The EU progress report

The whole issue was extensively covered by the EU in its 2022 progress report which highlighted how the REM had awarded the four national frequencies to the same broadcasters as in the previous eight years in spite of the fact that all of them had received warnings by the REM due to violations of their legal obligations. The EU reiterated the need to respect the principle of media pluralism and transparency in the process of allocating the frequencies. Moreover, in the progress report the EU quoted the ODIHR final report on the April 2022 elections in Serbia. In its final report the ODIHR noticed that the REM remained passive in overseeing the conduct of Serbian media during the recent electoral campaign.  ODIHR also remarked  that national public broadcasters provided “extensive uncritical news coverage  to public officials who were also candidates” while “private TV channels with a national coverage […] allocated some 90% of coverage in news programmes to the president and government officials portraying them generally positively”.  In other words, the REM had failed in its role of ensuring the correct application of the rules regulating the electoral campaign on the public broadcasters.


The saga of the fifth frequency begins

The public tender for the fifth national frequency was launched in August 2022 with a deadline set for the 11 October for the submission of bids. Four televisions eventually applied, amongst them TV Nova S which produces a number of successful programmes and is known for its critical stance towards the government.

According to Nova S,  the deadline for the REM to decide on the applications was 30 days  and it expired on the 26 November, however on 29 November the chairperson of the REM herself denied that there was any deadline for the awarding of frequencies and that the decision would be brought during one of the next sessions, without making any firm commitments.


Darkness in Serbia

The applicants and those following the process were worried that the whole procedure was just an excuse to buy time and eventually avoid awarding the frequencies. This led to a significant protest of the televisions belonging to the operator United Group, N1 and TV Nova S. On 6 December, the two TVs stopped their broadcasting and for the whole day they broadcasted a black screen displaying the text “Darkness in Serbia without free media”. The protest had a large impact and its timing coincided with the summit EU – Western Balkans. President Vucic himself was forced to comment on it during the summit itself criticising the TVs and stating that they were protesting more in their own interest than in that of the public. The protest of the TVs was later followed by another organised within the National Parliament by the members of the opposition who showed their support for the two televisions and displayed the same message as the two TVs did.


REM goes on strike

While the protest of the TVs did not explicitly refer to the issue of the fifth frequency in Serbia, the message was nevertheless clear and the reaction of the REM was immediate. The REM suspended their work on 9 December via an urgent phone session. Later on that month the chairwoman of the REM informed the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Information that the REM had gone on strike because of the “violent coordinated pressure” that they were receiving from opposition groups and in particular because of the pressure from the United group. Debates followed whether such a strike was legal or not, but the result was that time was passing and once more the decision on the allocation of the fifth frequency was delayed. The strike eventually ended on 21 December 2022 after the REM received the support of the parliamentary committee as well as that of the Minister of Information and Telecommunications.


The saga continues…

The end of the strike was not the end of the saga. Two days after the end of the strike the president of the REM itself announced publicly that the REM will not allocate the fifth national frequency while there is a pending court dispute with one of the applicants. The reference was to TV Nova S, which on 20 December had started a court case for administrative silence against the REM because the deadline to award the frequency had passed and no decision was brought. While the court case had been initiated to urge the REM to complete the procedure, the REM referred to it as a reason to continue postponing the decision on the allocation of the fifth frequency, even if the case can last years. The chairperson of the REM, Ms. Olivera Zekic, in fact stated that the court procedure “will last as long as it lasts. We can’t interfere in the work of judicial bodies. Was anybody forcing them (Nova S) to take us to court? No, I only regret that because of them, also other interested TVs will have to wait”. The paradox is that the lawsuit against the administrative silence is now being used by the REM to continue their silence and has become the main excuse to delay solving the issue. A similar complaint raised with the Ombudsman’s Office did not produce any results.

To date, there is no end in sight to this issue, even if eight months have passed since the call for the fifth frequency was launched and the deadline expired more than 5 months ago. The fact that the issue was raised both by the European Commission in October and most recently, in April 2023, by the  Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament did not unblock the situation. Indeed when commenting on such a report, the chairperson of the REM while rejecting the criticism of the European Parliament clearly stated that the REM has no legal obligation to issue the fifth frequency and that four national frequencies are even too much for the Serbian market. The latest statement seems to confirm what many suspected at the beginning: that the fifth national frequency will never be allocated or that it will be allocated when it is too late and it becomes meaningless.

This article was published as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Serbia: Independent journalism faces biggest crisis in years

Serbia: Independent journalism faces its biggest crisis in years

Following a visit to Belgrade on April 10 and 11 2023 to commemorate the murder anniversary of editor and publisher Slavko Ćuruvija, the undersigned international press freedom and journalists’ organisations today issue a stark warning over the state of media freedom and journalists’ safety in Serbia.

Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, our shared conclusion is that 24 years after the murder of Ćuruvija in 1999, poor conditions for the safety of journalists, the weak landscape for the rule of law, media capture and a festering climate of hostility towards critical reporting mean that the likelihood of a serious physical attack on a journalist remains a possibility. Independent journalism in Serbia continues to face a period of crisis.


The dedicated work being done by some stakeholders to prosecute attacks on journalists is being undermined by the wider climate of hostility being generated by leading politicians in Serbia. Until this is addressed and the public discourse regarding critical journalism is normalised, tangible progress will remain elusive.


These conclusions come after multiple meetings with independent journalists and editors, media associations and unions, the Standing Working Group for the Safety of Journalists, which included a representative of the Ministry of Interior.


Serbia exhibits a unique situation in which insults and attempts to discredit watchdog journalism stem overwhelmingly from leading politicians, including the President Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić  and ruling party MPs. Our assessment is that Serbia is one of the EU candidate states where journalists face the strongest verbal pressure and attacks from the state leadership. Critical and investigative journalism is still viewed by many public officials as an unpatriotic threat to be fought, rather than a healthy and necessary part of the country’s democratic fabric. 


This failure of the political class to accept and respect the role of critical journalism is dangerous. Smears launched by political figures are routinely picked up and reported by a network of tabloid media outlets owned by allies of the government who amplify the messaging, fomenting distrust and hatred against certain journalists. This behaviour by politicians normalises hostility towards independent media and, in many cases, acts as a signpost for physical as well as online threats by non-state actors.


It is no surprise that Serbia remains one of the most dangerous places in Europe, outside of Ukraine, to work as a journalist. In 2022, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS) documented 137 violations: 34 verbal threats, nine physical attacks, four attacks on property and 84 different attempts to pressure the media. Until the end of March 2023, 33 serious incidents were recorded: eight verbal attacks, three physical attacks and 22 acts of pressure on media and journalists. Investigative journalists probing high level crime and corruption are particularly at risk and are demonised as foreign mercenaries and national traitors.


While multiple state-backed initiatives have been launched to address the safety of journalists, their effectiveness is undermined by political attacks on journalists which compromise authorities’ efforts. The Standing Working Group on the Safety of Journalists, established in 2016, is an important initiative and a platform for the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities and media, allowing more systematic monitoring. The prosecutor’s office has established a network of dedicated contact points across Serbia which must act quickly in cases of threats. The 24/7 toll-free SOS helpline for journalists whose safety is threatened represents an important instrument for quick responses, along with networking of competent institutions and offering assistance to endangered journalists. In a welcome development, the number of physical attacks recorded in 2022 dropped compared to the previous year.


However, while law enforcement authorities have increasingly identified alleged perpetrators and brought indictments, justice has proven much harder to secure. In 2022, 81 criminal reports were submitted to the public prosecutor’s offices, yet just five convictions were reached. Though certain investigations have faced legitimate barriers in securing evidence, in some cases journalists complain that serious threats are assessed by prosecutors as not meeting the threshold of criminal offences. As of March 2023, 41,96% of cases submitted to the prosecutor’s office were dismissed for this reason. Journalists also raised concerns that politically sensitive cases, including attacks involving members of the ruling party, were not addressed appropriately. While the Standing Working Group functions adequately on paper and stakeholders are committed to its success, its work is undermined by a lack of political will and the wider climate of hostility. The separate Working Group for Security and Protection of Journalists, established in December 2020 with the backing of the Prime Minister, has been a failure.


On the other hand, the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists is another important initiative and has been fundamental in the fight for justice for Slavko Ćuruvija. Despite progress in the investigation of the Police Working Group within the Commission in identifying possible killers, the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime continues to hesitate on taking over the investigation into the murder of journalist Milan Pantić, while the mysterious death of Dada Vujasnović remains unsolved.


Despite the many challenges, there are some positive developments this year. The March 2023 retrial verdict sentencing perpetrators including a former Belgrade (Grocka municipality) president to five years in prison for the arson attack on the home of journalist Milan Jovanovic is a welcome victory. With an appeal underway, however, justice for this attack has not yet been secured. Swift indictments and prosecutions in early 2023 for the threats made against journalists at OK Radio by a powerful businessman in Vranje were positive. The recent sentencing to one year of house arrest to a man who issued appalling death threats against TV Nova S journalist Jelena Obućina is also a welcome development. However, the willingness and ability to effectively prosecute such attacks appear to extend only to cases where there was political pressure or where the alleged perpetrators lack political connections, indicating a lack of independence of law enforcement bodies.


At the wider level, however, no progress has been made in strengthening the landscape for media freedom and freedom of expression. Media pluralism remains particularly weak, with independent broadcast media systematically disadvantaged in the market. The clearest example was the controversial decision in July 2022 by the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) to again award all four national frequencies to pro-government television channels, overlooking applications by independent media houses. A fifth licence has yet to be allocated. The REM continues to display a lack of functional independence and has failed to carry out its duty of sanctioning violations of broadcast law by private channels close to the government. Delays continue in the long-overdue reform of the law on public information and media and the law on electronic media.


The public broadcaster continues to suffer from a lack of editorial independence and displays clear bias in its programming and reporting in favour of the government. State advertising – which has for years been the largest advertiser in media – also continues to be distributed in an arbitrary and non-transparent manner, largely in favour of pro-government media outlets. Rather than being disqualified from the co-financing program for regular violations of journalistic ethics, as identified by the Press Council, tabloid media continue to receive large amounts of public money. This use of state resources is one of the prime levers for the government to co-opt and control media coverage. While the direct ownership of private media by the state is banned, the purchase by state-owned and controlled Telekom Srbija of multiple media assets in recent years has established an indirect state ownership model. This is a prime example of media capture in Serbia. Taken together, these developments have cemented a pro-government narrative at the expense of independent journalism.


In addition to physical threats, independent media also face numerous legal challenges. Investigative platforms such as KRIK are being buried under an avalanche of vexatious lawsuits, both civil and criminal, meaning they are forced to dedicate valuable time and money to defending themselves in court. While the courts have recently thrown out clearly vexatious lawsuits, Serbia continues to be one of the worst countries in Europe for Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) and the number of documented cases is on the rise. Plaintiffs are most commonly public officials, politicians, businesspeople and companies. A recent case involving two SLAPP cases initiated against BIRN by the mayor of Belgrade is a prime example.


Overall, media freedom in Serbia remains in a poor condition. No one has yet been ultimately found guilty of the murder of a journalist. The climate of threats against journalists is at its worst point in many years. Media pluralism continues to be weak, with the ruling party overseeing a captured media ecosystem. The shared view of our international organisations is that, while important work on effectively prosecuting attacks on journalists has had a positive impact, this progress has been undermined by engrained challenges in ultimately securing justice and the wider climate of hostility towards critical journalism being fostered by political leaders. On balance, these combined factors mean Serbia continues to be held back in its commitments to improve media freedom as part of the EU accession process. We therefore recognise no overall progress since the fact-finding mission of the MFRR in April 2021.


This status quo must not continue. It is vital that the international community recognise the seriousness of the current situation for independent journalism in Serbia. In the coming months, our organisations will be giving as many platforms as possible to independent Serbian journalists to share their experiences first hand. International pressure will be central to enacting positive change. We therefore call on the European Union to ensure that media freedom in Serbia is a priority in the context of  the rule of law and democracy. We also urge EU leaders and officials to urgently raise the issue of pressure on journalists by high-ranking politicians during meetings with Serbian officials. Future progress reports on EU accession should fully reflect the seriousness of the situation and outline  for meaningful reforms. International bodies such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe must continue to address these issues head on. The upcoming report by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression following her mission to the country should be forceful in its assessment of the situation.


Twenty-four years after the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija, the conditions for the safety of journalists in Serbia are alarmingly reminiscent of the period in which he was killed. The upcoming appeal court verdict for the murder will be the most consequential for media freedom and journalism in decades, and will act as a litmus test for the rule of law and democracy more widely. If guilty verdicts are secured, we hope this can act as a catalyst for concrete change moving forward. Our international press freedom and journalists’ organisations will do all we can to support free and independent journalism during this time.


  • The challenges facing independent journalism in Serbia will be discussed in an upcoming MFRR webinar on May 3. Register here.

Signed by:


  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Media freedom in Serbia: A deepening crisis Event

Media freedom in Serbia: A deepening crisis

Media freedom in Serbia: A deepening crisis

03 May, 11:00 CEST.

Independent journalism in Serbia faces one of its deepest crises in years.


Media workers regularly face orchestrated smear campaigns, verbal harassment, physical attacks, damage to property, and major pressure from state and non-state actors. Leading political figures are adding fuel to the fire, discrediting journalists and undermining their watchdog role. As well as this, powerful individuals abuse the legal system, filing SLAPPs against independent journalists in order to prevent them from carrying out investigations or exposing corruption and abuses of power. As a result, Serbia remains one of the most dangerous countries in Europe to work as a journalist.


To mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the MFRR hosted a webinar to take a closer look at the conditions which have allowed this hostile climate for independent media to thrive, and what can be done to address it. The webinar follows a recent mission to Belgrade, joined by MFRR partners, to mark the 24 year anniversary of the murder of leading Serbian editor and publisher Slavko Ćuruvija.


Roberta Taveri

Media Freedom Senior Programme Officer/Europe Programme Officer


Ivana Stevanovic

Executive Director, Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation

Rade Đurić

Researcher and expert for media law and public procurement, NUNS (Independent Journalists Association of Serbia)

Jelena Zoric

Journalist, BIRN

Slavko Ćuruvija. Photo by Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation / Predrag Mitić Library

Slavko Ćuruvija: Cycle of impunity for killing of journalists…

Slavko Ćuruvija: Cycle of impunity for killing of journalists in Serbia must be broken

Following the start of the retrial last week at the Court of Appeal for the 1999 murder of Serbian editor and publisher Slavko Ćuruvija, the undesigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the SafeJournalists Network (SJN) today renew our call for justice for his killing to finally be secured.

The pending ruling – which will either confirm or dismiss the previous guilty verdicts handed down to four state security agents for carrying out and planning his assassination – will be the most consequential for media freedom and journalism in Serbia’s modern history.


Coming nearly 24 years after the editor and founder of the Daily Telegraph and Evropljanin was killed in Belgrade on 11 April 1999, the implications of the decision of the five-member panel of judges for Serbia are hard to overstate.


Most significantly, the confirmation of the verdicts sentencing the defendants to a total of 100 years in prison would finally bring to a close a more than two-decade long fight for justice led by Ćuruvija’s family, loved ones, colleagues and civil society organisations.


Attaining the convictions would represent a remarkable achievement for those who have sacrificed so much to ensure that Ćuruvija’s legacy is honoured and those who gunned him down at the entrance of his apartment are not able to act with impunity.


Given that no one has ever been convicted of the murder of a journalist in Serbia’s modern history, this would represent a vital judicial milestone. Amidst the current toxic climate for the safety of journalists in Serbia, it would also send a clear message that anyone considering trying to attack or silence a journalist will not escape accountability.


More widely, this appeal verdict – which shines a light on the crimes of the Milošević regime – represents a timely litmus test for the rule of law and democracy in Serbia, as well as of the resolve of authorities trying to solve the spate of killings of journalists in the late 1990s and early 2000s.


If high-level state officials are convicted, it will give much-needed hope that justice can, even decades after the crimes were committed, be achieved for other journalists killed amidst the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia: Milan Pantić in 2001, and Dada Vujasinović, the circumstances of whose death in 1994 was never fully established.


As we await the final verdict in the coming months, our organisations today restate our solidarity with Slavko Ćuruvija’s family, his widow Branka Prpa, and all those who have been so fundamental to the campaign for justice, including journalists and media associations, the Commission to Investigate the Murder of Journalists and the Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation.


Moving forward, we hope justice for Slavko Ćuruvija will be secured and that the vicious cycle of impunity for the killings of journalists in Serbia will, finally, be broken.

Signed by:

  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • SafeJournalists Network members:
  • Association of Journalists of Kosovo
  • Association of Journalists of Macedonia
  • BH Journalists Association
  • Croatian Journalists’ Association
  • Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia
  • Trade Union of Media of Montenegro
  • Trade Union of Croatian Journalists

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

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Multiple journalists threatened and harassed in Serbia, authorities must…

Multiple journalists threatened and harassed in Serbia, authorities must take urgent action

In the past month in Serbia, several journalists have been targeted by serious threats raising fears for their physical safety. Partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response and the Safe Journalists Network in condemning in the strongest terms the intimidation and often orchestrated campaigns by pro-government media outlets and members of the public to silence journalists.

The undersigned organisations urge the authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure their protection and prevent further threats.


The latest shocking threat reported on 1 December 2022 targeted Nova S TV’s journalist Jelena Obucina. Obucina received messages via Twitter, threatening her with “impalement” and stating she “would be burned”. The chilling text is composed of repeated and meticulously described death threats and threats of sexual violence. The messages were sent after a statement published in the tabloid Alo wrongly accusing Obucina of threatening Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on television and of making anti-state propaganda.


A few days ago, the home address of Serbian journalist Nenad Kulačin was published on posters pasted in downtown Belgrade. His colleague at the daily newspaper Danas, Marko Vidojković, received more than 20 death threats via social media following a guest appearance on TV Nova S, during which he commented on the FIFA World Cup match between Serbia and Brazil. Several tabloid newspapers published an identical article that targeted and insulted him over his views expressed regarding that match.


On 6 November 2022, Danas’ daily received a threatening email via an unknown Switzerland-based Protonmail email address directed at the newsroom, which listed specific journalists and columnists. The email read that “salvos of bullets” could be fired at them, and that it could “end up” like what happened to journalists of the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, who were killed in their offices by terrorists in 2015. The email called the journalists “enemy of the Serbian people”, “traitors” and mentioned the newspaper’s coverage of Kosovo, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska. Since then, permanent police security has been positioned in front of the editorial offices in Belgrade.


The Safe Journalists Network said that, while the number of cases did not increase above the standard figures recently, the severity of those threats are of great concern: “It is again clear that narrative and negative campaigns that start with statements from high-ranking government officials, usually continued by tabloids, lead to terrible threats from unknown people, especially on social media. We are concerned because such cases and incidents create confusion among citizens, who receive a completely wrong message from government officials and tabloids, that says that journalists are working against their country, that they are targeting the president and senior officials, and that they are actually enemies of Serbia.”


The undersigned organisations urge the Serbian authorities to publicly condemn the threats against the media, thoroughly investigate these cases as well as all reports filed by journalists, and ensure prevention of further attacks by promoting an environment that respects pluralistic opinions and diverging editorial policies.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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OK Radio Library

Serbia: Support for OK Radio as it faces intimidation…

Serbia: Support for OK Radio as it faces intimidation by powerful businessperson

The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express support and solidarity with embattled broadcaster OK Radio and urge Serbian law enforcement authorities to put an end to the dangerous campaign of harassment and pressure exerted on the media outlet by a powerful local businessperson.

Over the last few months, OK Radio, a leading independent radio station which covers local news in the southern city of Vranje, has faced an increasingly violent wave of attacks and intimidation from Dejan Nikolic Kantar, a powerful gambling businessperson. Pressure on the media outlet and its staff began in March 2022 after they filed a complaint to an inspector about plans by a company connected to Kantar to illegally build a new gambling business on the site next to the radio station.


Around this time, the radio station’s owner Olivera Vladković told police that she received threats over the phone from Kantar, who demanded she give consent for the construction or face “problems”. After OK Radio refused to back down, in April masked individuals smashed windows at the “No Comment” cafe, a business attached to the station which is also owned by Vladković and provides OK Radio with a large part of its income.


In early June, construction of the betting shop continued without permits and walled up one of the windows of the radio station overnight. OK Radio reported the news and shared pictures. Soon after, the café was vandalised again when a man was filmed spray painting the building. An individual then entered the café holding a mobile phone with the speaker turned on, through which Kantar screamed threats at OK Radio staff and journalists.


As the plight of the radio station gained national attention, representatives of Serbia’s Permanent Working Group for Safety of Journalists visited Vranje in mid-June to support OK Radio. Posters were put up overnight in the streets of Vranje which depicted a fake arrest warrant for Veran Matić, a leading member of the Working Group. Four men were recently tried but found not guilty of threatening the safety of Matić.


On June 16, Kantar was arrested for violent behaviour after he went to the café to allegedly threaten OK Radio journalists. Two other individuals who are alleged to have carried out attacks on his behalf have also been detained. All three are facing criminal charges brought by prosecutors and have denied the allegations. Kantar, a leading figure in the local gambling and construction industry, is currently serving separate sentences for violent behaviour and illegal betting, according to reports. Although a planning inspector has ordered the illegal building to be demolished, local companies have refused to carry out the demolition for fear of reprisals.


Most recently, during the trial of the businessperson on August 16, Kantar explicitly threatened the radio station’s owners in the courthouse telling them: “The fact that you said in court that you are afraid, you are right, you have reasons to be afraid, and I will not stop…”. According to reports, he also made a veiled death threat in a reference to murders at the Jasenovac concentration camp in 1941, at which point he made the sound of gunfire. In recent months, two employees have left their jobs at OK Radio over fears for their safety.


Our organisations view these actions as a brazen attempt by a local strongman to threaten the media outlet into silence, put its staff in danger, and intimidate other journalists from critical reporting on Kantar and his business interests. These tactics are used all too often by powerful business interests in Serbia who feel that they can threaten the media with impunity.


We urge Serbian authorities to ensure the safety of the journalists and staff at OK Radio and demonstrate that such attacks on journalists will not go unpunished. We also welcome the vocal support given to OK Radio by media representatives of the Permanent Working Group for Safety of Journalists and the wider journalistic community in Serbia. Our organisations will continue to monitor the situation closely and will be watching for the next hearing in the trial on the violent attacks against OK Radio scheduled for September 30.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Serbia: REM’s awarding of TV licences underscores media pluralism…

Serbia: REM’s awarding of TV licences underscores media pluralism and media diversity failure

Partners of the MFRR have expressed concern about the Serbian Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM)’s decision to award TV licenses to media outlets all supportive of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

Serbia’s Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) has recently concluded the process of awarding four national FTA TV licences. The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) consortium and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) previously criticised the process around this decision, which lacked transparency and did not comply with international media freedom standards. The decision taken by REM to award the available national TV licences to the same four pro-government outlets has perpetuated a deeply unbalanced commercial broadcast media market and is another example of the authority’s failure to protect media diversity and pluralism in Serbia.


In its decision published on 29 July 2022, the REM awarded TV licences to Pink, Happy, B92 and Prva televisions – media all supportive of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. On 5 August, the REM published a summary explanation of its decision, affirming that it was made to achieve a greater quality and diversity of content and through a comparative quality analysis of their fulfilment of criteria to award the licences. These However, all four outlets have been repeatedly criticised by civil society for their lack of respect for a variety of national laws and regulations, and for spreading hate speech and smearing political opponents to the current government. According to data from Serbia’s Coalition for Media Freedom, “in 2020 alone, over 12,000 violations of the Advertising Act were committed by these four television stations, and several reports were filed for hate speech and broadcasting of violence”.


Furthermore, the REM’s process of awarding TV licences failed to meet the requirements set under its own guidelines on the minimum conditions for the provision of media services. These include that licences should be awarded to broadcasters that respect the programming parameters for broadcasting licences and should be distributed in a manner that favours the provision of a plurality and diversity of views and ideas. The REM’s decision is yet another worrying indication of its lack of functional independence from political forces and another major failure of its regulatory responsibilities, one which further undermines media pluralism and democracy in Serbia.


International standards on freedom of expression prescribe media diversity and a fair and transparent process for awarding TV licences. As set out by the Principles on Freedom of Expression and Broadcast Regulation, promoting diversity in broadcasting services “implies pluralism of broadcasting organisations, of ownership of those organisations, and of voices, viewpoints and languages within broadcast programming as a whole. In particular, diversity implies the existence of a wide range of independent broadcasters and programming that represents and reflects society as a whole.” (Principle 3). Furthermore, “licence applications should be assessed according to clear criteria set out in advance in legal form (laws or regulations)”, which must be respected during the decision making process (Principle 21).


Two national organisations, the Slavko Curuvija Foundation and CRTA, have announced their intention to file a lawsuit against REM before the Administrative Court in accordance with the Law on Administrative Disputes and on the basis that the awarding process of TV licences violated the relevant laws and regulations. Such legal action is intended to push the REM to issue TV licences on the basis of the parameters set out by its own guidelines and by national law.


The REM also announced that a fifth TV licence might be awarded later in the autumn. There is speculation that this delay could be intended to favour Hungary’s TV2, which is owned by a key ally to the ruling Fidesz party of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to enter the Serbian market. Research conducted by the International Press Institute has shown how Hungarian business interests allied to the government have increasingly been investing in media across the Balkans which are aligned with Fidesz’s political allies, including in Hungarian language media in Serbia.


The MFRR and NUNS stress the impact that REM’s problematic licensing decision will have over media freedom and independence in the country and over Serbia’s citizens’ right to receive diversity of information from a plurality of media. We call for REM to review its decision and comply with national rules and regulations in the allocation of TV frequencies. We urge the Administrative Court to provide a swift response to any legal action taken as a result of this process, in full compliance with international freedom of expression standards. Finally, we stress the need for a comprehensive reform of the REM’s composition to ensure its independence from political interference and its functionality.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Serbia: Tendering process of national FTA TV licences must…

Serbia: Tendering process of national FTA TV licences must be open and transparent

Partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) are concerned about the lack of a transparent process for the allocation of national free to air (FTA) TV licences in Serbia and of a Development Strategy for radio and audiovisual media services.

On 15 April 2022, Serbia’s Regulatory Electronic Media (REM) opened a tendering call for four national TV licences, which were reduced from the five frequencies previously available. We believe that the current allocation process lacks transparency. Broadcast frequencies are a limited resource that should be managed by an independent regulatory authority, through open, transparent and participatory processes that ensure that the use of spectrum contributes to media pluralism and diversity.  


According to Article 23 of Serbia’s Law on Electronic Media, REM should determine the number of national frequencies needed in the country following a seven years Development Strategy Proposal for radio and audiovisual media services. Although a draft strategy plan was put up for a public debate in 2015, the consultations lacked transparency and did not seem to include all the relevant stakeholders in the discussion. Currently, the deadline for submitting applications to the tendering process is 20th June and the REM is due to publish its decision no later than 4th August.


The allocation of frequency spectrum across all frequency users should follow an open and participatory decision making process, as reflected by the Principles on Freedom of Expression and Broadcasting Regulation, based on international freedom of expression standards. This process should lead to the adoption of a transparent plan for broadcasting frequencies, in order to promote their optimal use as a means of ensuring diversity and must be overseen by a body that is protected against political and commercial interference. 


The MFRR previously highlighted concerns over the highly politicised composition of REM. According to the 2021 MFRR mission report to Serbia, the latest changes to REM’s members only produced superficial results aimed at improving its image in the eyes of international partners, while REM’s decisions seem to be often disregarded and rarely implemented. In its 2021 Serbia progress report, the EU also urged Serbia to strengthen REM’s independence “to enable it to efficiently safeguard media pluralism”. According to the national media strategy action plan, amendments of the media laws, including REM’s role, are planned to be enacted in 2022.


The MFRR together with NUNS urge the REM to ensure a fair and transparent tendering process of FTA TV licences in Serbia, which must comply with national legal requirements and international freedom of expression standards, and whose outcomes must ensure a diverse and plural broadcasting media landscape in the country. Alongside the EU’s recommendation, we also call on a comprehensive plan to strengthen the independence of REM in the upcoming reform to national media laws. The undersigned organisations will continue monitoring this process and the forthcoming measures.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists
  • Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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