28 May Press Shelter Nis: Journalists as political opponents

Numerous attacks on journalists in Serbia were registered this year as well. Some would say – nothing new. Little has really changed in recent years, other than the way journalists are threatened. Since the open attacks and murders of the 1990s, there have been different or more perfidious ways, but just as dangerous – arrests, targeting, intimidation, and similar attacks on journalists, just because they do their job professionally.

Most of these attacks were recorded, the prosecution intervened somewhere, some even received a court epilogue. However, there are also numerous attacks, pressures, and threats to the work of journalists which pass under the radar, which remain unregistered, and which are known only to the journalists themselves, their newsrooms, and perhaps their families.

This is especially true for journalists working in smaller towns, media, and newsrooms, and almost all media in the south of the country are just like that.

“Journalists working in small towns and distant areas are even more vulnerable than their counterparts in Belgrade and Novi Sad. They are unable to assess the pressure adequately. They are less encouraged to report cases to the police. This aspect of the state’s lack of specific attention should be urgently addressed. The state should pay attention to the position of local journalists who are endangered.”– the report of the International Mission of the Freedom of the Media Platform states a quick response.

Such is the situation in Nis, the largest city in southern Serbia, where professional journalists, who are otherwise very few, face different types of pressure on a daily basis.

Jovana Adamovic, a young journalist from Juzne vesti, explains that she is almost used to working in such conditions, because, as she says, in a media such as Juzne vesti, she encounters such attempts non-stop.

“Over time, as a journalist for a media such as Juzne vesti, I used to encounter these attempts  every day but so far no one has succeeded. There were, of course, insults, even swearing, all to my questions that citizens ask us for days and which I do not give up until I get answers. It was difficult for me at the beginning, because I am a living being who cannot accept hearing all these things from the other side just for doing job and asking questions. Unfortunately, this happens so often that in more than 4 years of work I have got used to it, and I mentally prepare for every interview as if it will be unpleasant, even though not every one of them is, ” says Adamovic..

Jovana Adamovic;  Everyday pressures

She explains that politicians, both those in power and those in opposition, are more often threatening and arrogant when journalists call them on the phone.Live, they simply avoid answers, most likely because of the cameras.

 “If it wasn’t recorded, it didn’t happened. Their arrogance and that vulgar language motivate me, even more, to ask and write in the interest of the citizens.  It is a sign that I am doing well, and we will see in a couple of years how all this affects my health.” says the journalist.

As one of the few professional media in Nis and the south, politicians in power often target and present Juzne vesti and its journalists as political opponents rather than as citizen representatives..

“What is more dangerous, they want citizens, in whose name we ask and work, to see public enemies in us. As if we actually hate them personally or our city, that we want to destroy them by asking questions and such. I hope that the citizens, those on whose behalf we are asking questions, know that they are our only side on which we are always,” says Adamovic.

A similar situation, if not more severe is in other small towns in the south – there are fewer and fewer professional journalists, smaller places (such as Dimitrovgrad, Bujanovac, or Vlasotince) require journalists and politicians to know each other personally, to meet on the street every day, to have someone from the family connected with politicians, to work in the public service or similar.

Threats are not only received by journalists, but also by members of their families, friends. As Adamovic says, when your work also affects the people around you, the sooner you will withdraw, and easier is for them to intimidate you.

Threats often do not come directly, but through intermediaries. A close family member or friend, who fearing for a loved one, friendly advises one to take it slow and take care.

CINS journalist Stefan Markovic, now stationed in Belgrade, himself worked in southern Serbia in Nis.

He says that  working in local media is different from the work he is currently doing. He remembers a time when he was questioned  after  the spokesperwoman of the Municipality of Mediana, Dušanka Kitanović reported him to the police. Police at the station asked him to reveal the source of his information, which he used to write a series of texts about misappropriation in Mediana.

However, the safety of journalists, he says, is also affected by daily work, which includes constant communication with politicians and those in power.

“Politicians often address journalists as political opponents which can absolutely endanger the safety of “unsuitable” journalists, because such a narrative sends the message, ‘you are our enemies’ or even ‘you are the enemies of the state’. It is especially problematic at the local level, where politicians and officials bring down the relationship with the media to a personal level , “ says Markovic.

Stefan Markovic: Politicians reduce the relationship with the media to a personal level

Frequent divisions in Serbian society also divide journalists, and Markovic says that journalists are responsible for themselves..

“I don’t think the problem should be viewed from that perspective alone, from where politicians put journalists on one side or the other, but also from where journalists, ie the media themselves choose the side and take a stand for or against, which has led to a terribly polarized media scene, ” explains the CINS journalist.

So we came to the point that we currently have a small number of professional journalists on one side and a large number of media workers on another side. The difference is obvious – for some the most important is the interest of the public and citizens, while for others the interests of the authorities and the ruling party come first..

Big and powerful (both states and individuals) cultivate a natural aggressive tendency to rule the weaker, so it seems that today’s politicians use that maxim – they use the position of power instead of the power of arguments in communication with unsuitable journalists who they see not as public representatives but political opponents..

And when that is not enough, which has become more frequent in recent years – they simply avoid answers and deprive citizens of important information.

Not answering calls, not answering emails or messages, completely ignoring questions asked by journalists on behalf of citizens, or answering only suitable media and journalists, is a common occurrence, which is another way in which they influence the work of journalists.

Therefore, many see working in journalism, especially in Serbia, as a lost thing in advance. There are many journalists among them. Is it chivalrous then to fight for a thing lost in advance?

In the words of Oscar Wilde – Every gentleman (I would add a lady) always fights exclusively for the lost thing.

Ljubomir Filipov