ANEM proposal for amendments to Criminal Code draft

The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) expresses its dissatisfaction with the draft text of the Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code, which was prepared by the working group of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.

ANEM is first and foremost extremely unhappy with the fact that the text of the working group is giving up on the long-awaited decriminalization of libel and slander. ANEM has been repeatedly pointing out that decriminalization is the first necessary step towards strengthening freedom of expression in society. The possibility of criminal prosecution of journalists for libel and slander discourages the freedom of expression and represents one of the generators of self-censorship in the Serbian media.

ANEM particularly indicates that incomplete solutions, such as the revoking of prison sentence for libel and slander in the amendments to the Criminal Code in 2005, have proven to be inadequate and insufficient. The case of Laszlo Sas has confirmed the fears of Serbian journalists that prison remains a real threat to the criticism uttered or written. The right of a journalist to criticize negative phenomena in society and not to end up in prison for that, must never again depend on the act of mercy of any
individual, even if that individual is the president of the Republic himself.

To make things worse, the working group of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration has also proposed the deletion of the Article 138, Paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code, which provides for stringet punishment for threats to journalists, in cases when they are exposed to these threats due to their work.

ANEM reminds that, in practice, even when they are convicted, the violence offenders threatening journalists have been pronounced sentences at or below the minimum provided for by Law. The amendments, now proposed by the working group of the Justice Ministry, would have the minimum penalty for threatening a journalist in relation to his/her job reduced fourfold

ANEM reminds on its earlier addresses to the Government of the Republic of Serbia, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Culture, in which the Association sought thorough changes to the regulatory framework governing the work of the media in Serbia, so as to provide greater safety and protection of journalists, with the aim of achieving freedom of expression in society and protection of the right of the public to know. Decision of the Ministry of Justice, namely the working group formed by the said ministry, to waive the decriminalization of libel and slander, as well as four-fold reduction of the minimum penalties for threats to journalists, is sending out a message that new authorities in Serbia are not interested in improving the safety and protection of media professionals, and may act as an incentive for those who believe that the truth may be hidden from the Serbian public by threatening journalists.

In view of the above, ANEM sent to the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration its proposals for amending the draft text of the Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code, in a manner that would decriminalize libel and slander and would not delete more severe form of the criminal offense of threats against the security, which, among other things, particularly protects journalists from threats they may be exposed to due to their journalistic work.

ANEM President,
Saša Mirković