Theoretically, the situation in Serbia is more than fertile for advancement of media freedom – the laws exist, as do numerous councils/institutions/agencies and the so called “free media market”.

Politicians are “staying out of the journalistic business”. We are annoyed a little by those tabloids, but that is somehow natural in this “period of transition”… So, that is theory. Practice, as it often happens, is different – laws are generally not being enforced; councils/institutions/agencies for the most part don’t work; the “free market” permits survival only of those media which have “freely decided” to team up with mobsters and tycoons; most of journalists live and work in appalling conditions…

And as for the politicians, let us just remember the famous episode when members of Parliament threatened journalists with withdrawing the privilege of eating in the Parliament’s dining room because of their sharp criticism toward the increase of MP’s salaries. There is really no need to mention all those local powers that be who have, in the course of the last year, arbitrarily dismissed from positions many editors and even named guests in TV shows. And let us not forget countless calls and threats to journalists, insults, physical attacks, lawsuits and quite a few attempts to influence the editorial policy…

This year’s May 3 is dedicated to unsolved murders of journalists and other media workers – during the last year more than 500 journalists were killed. Most of the perpetrators are still free. According to the information gathered by the World Association of Journalists, 71 journalists were murdered during the last year and 15 in the first few months of this year. Serbia and Montenegro are part of this deplorable statistics – murders of Dada Vujasinovic, Slavko Curuvija, Milan Pantic and Dusko Jovanovic still remain unsolved and from time to time officials greet us with notion that a certain journalist “was not murdered on purpose”, while at the same time journalists still receive threats of “joining” those who were killed.

This year, the World Press Freedom Day will be celebrated in Dakar (Senegal). Belgrade hosted the last year’s celebration, which was distinguished by the fact that only one (1) journalist attended the formal cocktail party. In the meantime, on the map prepared by the Reporters Without Borders SCG is designated as the region with “noticeable problems”, but the real trouble lies in the fact that these problems, on May 3 or any other day, are noticed only by people who work in the media. Those who pass laws and those who are supposed to enforce them consider their work fully done when they pen an appropriate press release – on May 3 or any other day.

That is precisely why the World Press Freedom day, at least this year, shouldn’t be marked with some kind of a round table, conference or assembly with a resultant “appropriate document”.

Press freedom is not a theoretical abstraction, but responsible work with objectives to find murderers of our colleagues, ensure the implementation of the Broadcasting Act and establishment of the Telecommunications Agency, secure the conditions for successful privatization of the media, reduce taxes for the press, start negotiations for the Collective Industry Contract, increase the control of the implementation of individual journalists’ contracts, introduce European standards regarding defamation and libel in the criminal law and courts, and promote opinions of professional and media organizations during preparation of new media laws…

And finally, to recognize that journalists are not supposed to help those whom they maybe once supported to stay in power, but to perform a role which earned them the title of the fourth estate – and scrutinize the government on behalf of citizens.

Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia and Media Center


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