"Politika is more ethical than B92"

"I will in no way feel responsible for what may happen, even if there is the intention of someone to set B92 on fire. I don't think there is, and I think you know that too. Even if there was, the media that informed and warned the public will not be responsible, only the perpetrator will."

Guest: Politika editor-in-chief Ljiljana Smajlović, Journalist: Ivana Momčilović
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B92: Ms. Smajlović, why did you print an article in which the Topola mayor in effect calls for B92 to be burned down?

Smajlović: When we found out who was behind the canceling of the [Peščanik] promotion, that was interesting, since it turned out that this man [Dragan Jovanović] was the youngest municipal president in Serbia.

The first information we got was that the Radicals prevented the panel from taking place, and then we found out that it was in fact a man from a neighboring town. When we called him, we, naturally, could not assume what he intended to say. When he said this, we though this was not insignificant, or something to be hidden just so we could be politically correct.

Anyway, it is not our custom to protect people we talk to from what they have to say, although I think our journalist did let him know that it would only be democratic, decent, civil and in the spirit of the times to allow everyone, including those with different opinion, to come to town and say what they think.

B92: What do you think your journalist did to let him know about this, since it seems that he may have given his questions and comments a derisive tone, leading him to some answers?

Smajlović: I could not agree that the journalist introduced a derisive tone. That is up to the style of the reporter, and I think that [Aleksandar] Apostolovski is a very talented journalist with a gift for communicating with people and an ability to converse with this type of interlocutor.

You know, when you let a man take his claims to their final meaning, it is very important to show him whether you will go all the way with implementing the logic you advocate. That is fairly important since this is a new phenomenon.

This is a man from the ruling coalition, We think it's interesting to see how he reasons and converses and we think we have carried out an important social responsibility in this. The journalist's style is obvious during the conversation; [quotes from the interview] But Šumadija must hear and take this criticism, with guests safe and no one insulting them. That is our journalist's claim, his question.

B92: "Shall we convince them we are good Serbian hosts," the journalist also says. "Would you take the participants to dinner to Topola after the panel?"

Smajlović: That was our interviewee's idea, the one that he mentions in the beginning. I will give you one example from B92 Radio. A university professor is a guest there and says that Vojislav Koštunica should have been shoved in a car trunk on October 5, rather than allowed to make a speech.

Afterwards, B92 not only fails to condemn this, but invites this gentleman, Samrardžić is his name, to the top rated Timofejev talk show, where this is discussed in a joking manner. B92 ought to question the tone of those questions as well, sometimes you like it, other times you don't, which is not entirely fair.

B92: Do you remember the Ekspres article, and you ought to remember, since you were employed with Politika Ekspres at the time, about Slavko Ćuruvija, saying that Slavko Ćuruvija was inviting NATO bombs?

Smajlović: I remember, yes.

B92: Do you remember what then happened to Slavko Ćuruvija? Can this too be considered a call to lynch?

Smajlović: I think you have addressed this about Slavko Ćuruvija to the wrong person, since my life too was in danger at that time, I was one of his editors.

B92: All the more so.

Smajlović: And do you think that when B92 continuously talks about TV Bastille, continuously quotes those who say it should be burned and torn down, do you think that B92 takes responsibility for TV Belgrade [RTS] being set on fire on October 5 [2000]?

I know that B92 is not responsible for someone setting TV Belgrade on fire. I think our interview is good journalism, that Serbian citizens today found out something about Mr. Jovanović and the situation in Šumadija. As for this type of suggestion that, once you carry someone's claim, you become responsible for his eventual intentions – that's the sort of interrogation that is also neither democratic, nor in the spirit of modern journalism.

B92: When you talk about all this, I must remind you that this article does not show the weight of a statement. We do not see a man from the ruling coalition portrayed. New Serbia is saying that B92 is threatening our country's territorial integrity. Are you aware of how statements like that can bear on the safety of the people employed with B92, and yet you give these statements space?

Smajlović: The daily Politika is not responsible for people's assessments. And it cannot be responsible if a political figure says something, while our journalist adds, "I'm sorry, you had to take it [the radio show promotion] and listen to it".

B92: Following this logic, Politika Ekspres also had not responsibility for Ćuruvija's murder?

Smajlović: No, the circumstances were completely different then. I think that you, you neither remember it, nor completely understand what you're talking about. I doubt that you do, really.

I think it's very rude to compare what happened to Slavko Ćuruvija with this statement, "Maybe some day, if B92 continues to carry on like this, what happened to TV Bastille could also happen to them." That is still not a call to lynch or murder. You know, not everything happens because of B92, B92 is not the only important factor. Today, Politika is threatened. We receive threats from the Movement Strength of Serbia, form Delije [Red Star FC hooligans].

I find it almost incredible that you come up with an interrogation-style, accusing tone and say, "Slavko Ćuruvija", after a very well done interview that the readers could use to find out a lot from. Well, you talk to me about Slavko Ćuruvija. What I do is journalism, while what you do is determining who is allowed to say what and when, who can report something.

This is a member of the ruling coalition, this is important to know. A media house cannot be held responsible. It's as if you said, this guy wanted to commit genocide, and you reported what he said. And if genocide does take place, it means you are equally responsible. That's Carla Del Ponte and the joint criminal enterprise logic. That's what you're doing right now.

B92: But don't you think that Politika should distance itself from this?

Smajlović: I think this is a professionally conducted interview. And that there is more professional ethics at Politika than at B92, where people are protesting only when something is directed at them, and never when it's against someone else.

Meaning, how terrible it is to now listen to Pera Luković attacking someone from B92. I was under attack from the same person, via B92, for years, and B92 never stood up to protest, while I never used Politika to say, where is your company's ethics and responsibility. Professionally, it's an utterly rude act, what you are doing.

B92: You don't you think this article can jeopardize the safety of the B92 staff?

Smajlović: If this article endangers someone at B92, it will not be because of the article, it will be because of the possible intentions of the person who spoke…

B92: … and who was given a lot of space by Politika?

Smajlović: Your logic, along with your tone of interrogation is abominable. Your pretension to teach people what to think, what they can and cannot say and report is really becoming ridiculous. What you are doing is not the role of the media: you want to issue an indictment in advance for something that did not take place yet.

B92: What if it does take place?

Smajlović: I don't know what we'll do if it does happen, we'll see. I will in no way feel responsible for what may happen, even if there is the intention of someone to set B92 on fire. I don't think there is, and I think you know that too. Even if there was, the media that informed and warned the public will not be responsible, only the perpetrator will.

This logic that you use means that we cannot allow people to hear about things, since we determine what is good for them, we determine the future and events to follow. That is not the role of the media, the media have a role to point to what is not in line with civilized behavior. Where does in say in Politika that this was in line with civilized behavior?

B92: Did you feel any need to distance yourself form what Mr. Jovanović has said and from a call to lynch of a kind, that puts the B92 staff in danger?

Smajlović: I don't think this is a call to lynch, I don't think this endangers the staff of B92. And I think our journalist made it clear that he does not agree with any calls to lynch. I think that Politika did a favor to B92 and other citizens by informing them about the way a part of the ruling coalition thinks about B92. That is much more useful than lecturing people on what they ought to do.

Wasn't it precisely B92 that rejoiced the burning of TV Belgrade? Not only did it not distance itself, but it treated it as something swell. When you show TV Belgrade being set on fire, could it be you are advocating that this company be burned anew?

B92: Did you hear Mr. [Miroslav] Markićević's statement in the parliament today, when he said, "It seems to me you will end up like TV Bastille. This is official, if you carry on like this."

Smajlović: I didn't hear that, and even if Politika quotes him in the morning, it will be Mr. Markićević's responsibility. The media are here to inform, not to lecture and distance themselves from what is not in line with normal human behavior.

When you make a comment, then you distance yourself, this, however, was a conversation where our journalist made it clear to that the Peščanik promotion should have taken place.

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