How much is life of journalist worthSource: PolitikaMilan Galović
"One Friday evening, I was still at work when the police director called me and told me that their estimate was that my safety was at risk, that there was a team that will be taking care of my safety already on its way. Then we did more talking and, from what I could tell, the security estimates showed that I should have been assigned security even before."
"They did not announce specific names or groups because I which I was assigned security, because most of the information is not communicated to a person who is under protection. When I asked for new checks, I was told that in the next three to six months a new assessment would be made, and that in addition to representatives of the police other security agencies will also take part," Veran Matić, director and chief editor of B92 and one of the three Serbian journalists who live under 24-hour protection, told Politika.
Recently the tabloid Informer questioned the cost of the security provided to him, and the need for it, and B92 published a response in which they explained that Serbia has not yet solved the murders of three journalists, and that before the assassination Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić the question of whether he needed that much security was asked in some newspapers.
Prime Minister Ivica Dačić also spoke about the issue while a guest on the "Impression of the Week" show, to say that the official estimate was that Matić needed security, while the Serbian Ministry of the Interior also made a statement.
"Regarding reports in the media, which relate to the security of Veran Matić and other media representatives, note that the competent authorities drafted safety assessments based on information obtained while working together with the Office of the Serbian Organized Crime Prosecution and Security-Intelligence Agency," the statement of the Interior Ministry said.
As stated, none of the security assessment were done based on a personal request of Matić or other protected persons - instead, the police was guided strictly by professional assessment of the real situation and the possible consequences.
"The cost of these activities is much smaller than the potential consequences that the safety assessment indicate could occur," the MUP said.
The Association of Independent Electronic Media announced that Veran Matić was not the only journalist in Serbia under police protection.
"Besides to him, RTS General Director Aleksandar Tijanić, Insider author and editor Brankica Stanković, journalist Vladimir Mitrić and others for which it is estimated that their lives are in danger, also enjoy police protection," the association said, and added that Informer's own editor, Dragan J. Vučićević, also had police protection at one point," the ANEM statement said.
Whichever journalist is under police protection, it is clear that Serbia, because of its position in the world, especially in the evaluation of media and organizations dealing with human rights, must not leave anything to chance when it comes to the safety of journalists. The fact that the murders of Slavko Ćuruvija, Milan Pantić and Radislava Vujasinović are still unsolved, sends a message that murders of journalists go unpunished here.
When it comes to Veran Matić, who has special respect in international circles, one might say there is "accumulated risk." He says that like many B92 journalists he is constantly receiving threats, mostly by e-mail and on discussion portals, as well as on the telephone, and that B92's legal service delivers them to the police - while he does not report street outbursts of this kind.
A review of the not-too-distant past shows that during the Đinđić government, he was the target of political and media structures, both in the media and via posters that appeared on the orders of unknown persons. Former U.S. Ambassador William Montgomery said in an interview for NIN given after the assassination of Zoran Đinđić that the late late prime minister told him that head of the Government Bureau of Communications Vladimir Beba Popović stood behind the attacks on Matić. Popović asked TV Pink owner Željko Mitrović to launch these attacks on B92 for its allegedly controversial privatization, while Đinđić at that time was unaware of this. When in 2008, after the declaration of independence of Kosovo, riots broke out and embassies of the U.S. and Germany in Belgrade were attacked, there was an attempted an attack on the B92 building, but the security forces, in contrast to the embassies, successfully prevented it.
Merely assigning state bodyguards to endangered journalists is absolutely not enough to improve the safety of the media, says Veran Matić.
"Journalists must be free to do their job. It is very difficult to forget the presence of the police by your side all the time, regardless of having nothing to hide, and of how considerate they are. Brankica Stanković received police protection a year before me and I was actively involved in ensuring that these relationships are tolerable, so that it would not happen that Brankica should leave journalism. I think that it is necessary to work to remove the threat to journalists. Of course, it is very difficult when the danger comes from members of organized criminal groups of international character, the proven killers, pathological maniacs. I wish the police would make a statement and outline the degree and type of security threats against me. From our experience over the past four years a lot can be learned when it comes to this area, also in order for the police to be better trained for such things, and so that journalists and editors develop a culture of security and thereby increase their safety at work. The worst oucome is when reporters go to self-censorship or withdraw from the profession."