"Many are afraid of verdict in Curuvija murder trial"
Veran Matic speaks for Blic after weekly Ilustrovana Politika's scandalous front pageSource: Ranko Pivljanin, Blic
Veran Matic, the president of the Commission Investigating Murders of Journalists, has been an inevitable target over the past month and a half in a special war of sorts, that weekly Ilustrovana Politika has been waging.
Matic, along with Ljiljan Smajlovic and US Ambassador Kyle Scott, is the hero of the latest front page of this weekly, one no less in bad taste than the one about "released hounds." How come these articles are appearing in Ilustrovana Politika, what kind of campaign is this?
Matic: From the moment of the brutal murder of Slavko Curuvija, a fierce obstruction has been underway to determine who issued the order, planned and executed 'death by firing squad'. The same forces who are behind the killing are trying to influence in any way they can the acquittal in this case. In this sense, all kinds of 'volunteers' are being used, some of whom have their share in 'drawing the targets' on Slavko's forehead, as well as those who ordered and organized this evil deed.
Why are you and our colleague Ljiljana Smajlovic the target?
- The trial is taking too long and does not bring some attractiveness. Everyone thinks that everything is known. However, when we, as representatives of the Commission Investigating Murder of Journalists, began to warn about certain decisions of the Trial Chamber directly determining the course of the trial - such as the release into house arrest of two of the accused while the third was on the run, which opens up the possibility of making agreements and pressuring witnesses, excluding the most important evidence that denies alibis, preventing the exclusion of important evidence of actors who have died in the meantime, but whose testimonies were taken lawfully... the two of us, as well as the Commission, have been located as those who pose an obstacle to enforcing the intention of acquitting the accused to the end. That's why a wide front has been launched to discredit us.
You filed a lawsuit against Goran Kozic. Kozic apologized and resigned from this advisory position (at Ilustrovana Politika). How do you interpret that?
- That gesture followed the statement of President Vucic, and because of that I do not believe in repentance, I believe only in the apology to the state leadership. The texts of Martic and Kozic give away the spirit of the 90s, they are full of rhetoric with charges of treason, derision of foreign mercenaries. They are full of hatred and desire for revenge, I guess because of the fall of Milosevic and October 5. Because of that, I will seek protection in the court, because it is about 'repeat offenders' who, as soon as they get a new chance, will continue their dishonorable work.
In whose interest is it to relativize the investigation into the murder of Slavko Curuvija?
- In those who want the media and journalists to be subjugated, and all those who could be prosecuted for a role in similar executions to be protected. The State Security took part in wartime operations, but also in endangering the freedoms and rights of citizens.... They think that if any of them are convicted, the risk of other cases being prosecuted would increase.
How true are the statements of top state officials, in particular President Aleksandar Vucic, that the state will do everything to protect media representatives - if he himself often generates a division into "these" and "those" journalists?
- The sincerity of statements will be assessed through concrete activities. When he was saying that at the beginning of his term as the first deputy prime minister, I proposed to him to test it in solving the cases of the murdered journalists.
He then agreed to set up the Commission, and so far he has been giving support to the work of the Commission. I hope he will also support the request to form a kind of a committee to protect journalists, which would serve to prevent violence against journalists, by creating a broad front of the Action Plan against hate speech, threats and violence against public workers, journalists, cultural workers (based on the Swedish model).
The society has been desensitized to the most horrifying threats in public communication. We are discussing what is more tolerable: 'to be hanged at Terazije (square)' or to be 'impaled at Terazije', as I have been threatened. Such threats sometimes end in violence. In order to stop this cycle, it is necessary to form a broad front against it and, of course, it is necessary that the top political establishment be an example of communication without hate speech, threats...
Some colleagues are wary of the work of the Commission headed by you. What it that about?
- There was distrust in the honest intentions of Aleksandar Vucic, then in the cooperation with institutions of the system, the MUP and the BIA, and then in the outcome of the work of the Commission... This is very hard work, it requires pioneering commitment to the goal. We all work without any compensation. The expenses of our activities are borne by ourselves and our newsrooms. Had there been more unity of the media community around the work of the Commission, the monitoring of the trial, I am sure that it wouldn't have been possible to have the evident attempts at obstruction.
Last summer, the Society of Judges accused you of influencing the court, and you are not a favorite among lawyers? What do they hold against you?
- First the Bar Association of Serbia, in whose administration are also the defense lawyers, responded to my statements, accusing me of violating the presumption of innocence and pressuring the court. The Lawyers were, to my great surprise, supported by the Society of Judges, and then by the High Judicial Council. In an open discussion that we subsequently led with all of them, none of these accusations has been confirmed. On the contrary, the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation these days told Insajder unequivocally, and a month ago the counseling of judges in Vrnjacka Banja, that that journalists can criticize the work of the judges and that this is not a violation of the law. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has just made another decision that confirms this.
The government made a decision to extend the jurisdiction of the Commission to the periods of the war in Kosovo and in to the 1990s conflicts. How many journalists lost their lives in that time?
- According to the UNS (Association of Journalists of Serbia), 39 journalists have been killed or kidnapped. Especially dramatic is the situation in Kosovo, where we have five kidnapped and two killed journalists from the Serb newsrooms, and seven killed Albanians. The extension of the mandate refers to the collection of data on all these cases that we could use through the work of the special court (Specialist Chambers) for KLA's war crimes, the processes before the provisional organs of prosecution in Kosovo, but also in order to present to the public everything that we arrive at in this process.
What has happened to Serbian journalism, how much are journalists themselves to blame for this state of affairs?
- Independent regulatory bodies have never come to life as such, instead immediately after their establishment, they would be put in the function of government, businesses... the self-regulation bodies, too.
The ownership transformation of the leading media is still not completed today, so it is easy to manipulate editorial policies. The public service does not rely on stable sources of revenue without budgetary interventions. Unfair competition is very easily formed in different ways. Transformation of timely and objective reporting, due to budget cuts for advertisements, has been transformed into the dominance of PR content, labeled or hidden... low salaries have redirected the journalist base to other, better paid jobs.
All this does not amnesty the political elite whose obligation is to strive to establish a clear modern democratic and systemic framework for the functioning of the media and journalists. It's as if this turmoil suits everybody. Certainly, the most dangerous product is the tabloidization that has become accepted without any resistance from the government and has become the mainstream, dominant content. And subsidizing quality journalism, one that protects the public interest, has turned into subsidizing partisan journalism.
What do you know about the sale Prva TV and O2 channels?
- I know only that B92 Trust, which is headed by me, has about 11 percent of shares, while small shareholders have about 2.7 percent of shares in B92 d.o.o. which is made up of O2 TV, Play Radio and the B92 web. The majority owner should ask us to sell shares at a price that has been realized. That has not happened yet. I will, of course, strive to protect the interests of small shareholders and B92 Trust, and its founders.
Also looking for missing persons in Croatia
Veran Matic was recently appointed as a special envoy of the president of the Republic for resolving the cases of missing persons with the Republic of Croatia.
- In a way, these two missions overlap, because I am working to resolve the case of a missing retired journalist Sime Kljajic, who disappeared in Gospic in 1991. He is listed as missing by the Commission for Missing Persons, and there is data in Croatia that the case has been closed. I'm trying to find out in Croatia what this is about. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has appointed Ivica Vrkic, the mayor of Osijek, as her envoy and we both work together on various cases of missing persons.
Grocka fire happened because preventive measures failed
- The attempted murder of journalist Milan Jovanovic from the Zig Info portal, by burning of his house down, only ended without any casualties thanks to luck. The editor of this portal, Zeljko Matorcevic, was physically attacked at the beginning of October this year, with serious bodily injuries inflicted on him. They were reporting the threats, pointed to specific people who threatened them, and so far no case has been resolved. Practically, when we have cases of failure to solve cases, of impunity, the degree of violence only grows. There are no preventive measures and effective investigation here, and now we have an attempt to kill and destroy property. Journalists in smaller communities are completely unprotected from local politicians and businessmen. Therefore, it is necessary to establish organized, primarily preventive protection of all journalists. I'm glad that the journalistic and civic solidarity worked quickly and so far, only through the site donacije.rs, 310 donors have collected over one million dinars, while our colleague Veljko Lalic has donated the financial part of an award that he received these days.