"Censorship, self-censorship, pressure on media"

Freedom of the media in Serbia is facing serious problems, Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission in Serbia Paula Thiede has said.

Source: B92
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This official took part in B92 TV's "Impression of the Week" talk show late on Sunday, when she noted that she expected the situation to "soon change for the better."

"We work within our mandate to strengthen media freedom and in this regard we work with the government of Serbia, as well as with non-governmental organizations and journalists' associations. The government has pledged to adopt three important pieces of legislation, and I expect that we will soon see an improvement in media freedom," Thiede stated.

She also said that the organization will not apologize to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and that there were "problems with the media" in Serbia.

"Nobody asked us to apologize, nor we can offer something like that," she said.

Last week, Vučić sent a letter to the OSCE demanding either an apology or proof that the government was imposing censorship on the media.

Thiede further said that she could not speak on behalf of Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, who criticized the Serbian government for "pressuring the media."

"I believe that Dunja Mijatović and Prime Minister Vučić resolved it in a constructive conversation," said Thiede.

Ljiljana Smajlović, president of the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) and editor-in chief of the daily Politika, criticized the OSCE for not reacting several years ago, when the government then in office adopted a controversial law on information.

"As far as censorship is concerned, I have a broad understanding of the term. Censorship is there, as is self-censorship, the state has enormous influence on the media. Tycoons are pressuring the media because they want to be liked by the state and they want to be liked by those in power," said Smajlović.

Thiede stressed that it was important that "we all agree" that the problem exists, while the OSCE wants to help the government to solve it.

"There are some challenges in terms of freedom of expression and media freedom. There is self-censorship, three people have been detained because of their statuses on Facebook and it is a cause for concern," said she.

Sociologist Jovo Bakić also took part in the talk show to say he believed the situation was "worrying" and that "we have never had such cases of websites being brought down."

"Even when you look at how television stations reported about that, and indications that the doctorate of Police Minister Nebojsa Stefanović was plagiarized , you can see something's going on there," said Bakić.

Commenting on the counter argument of the authorities that there was no censorship because the media publish content critical of the government, he said:

"If you have five television stations with national coverage, and four authors of programs where the opposition stance can be heard, that is an abnormal situation."

Bakić agreed with Smajlović that the OSCE does not have the same yardstick "at any time."

"Nobody criticized Vučić a month ago, and he was doing the same thing. Here the foreign policy context is important, and that is the question of Ukraine, and we cannot ignore it," he said.

Smajlović believes that there is pressure on Serbia to impose sanction against Russia and that the OSCE's reaction should be viewed in this light.

"If Serbia were to impose sanctions against Russia, the OSCE would not give a damn whether the Telepromter website was available on the internet or not. They might even be against the site. Let me remind you that the Press Council punished it at the request of the SHARE Foundation because of violations of the code of ethics," said Smajlovć.

She added that the OSCE should fight for Telepromter as well - but that then everyone should be "treated equally."

Bakić noted that it was "interesting" that in the German media have lately carried critical articles about Vučić, which, according to him, indicates a change of attitude of the West towards him.

"That tells us that so far a honeymoon of sorts between Vučić and the Western media and politicians was ongoing, and that is now changing. Aleksandar Vučić has not been obedient when it comes to Ukraine. He believes that he was obliging to the world powers on the issue of Kosovo and that he can now lead an independent policy when it comes to the Ukrainian crisis. Now, he is receiving signals that it will be difficult to do," said Bakić.

Thiede reacted by saying that the views of the OSCE "have no connection neither with Ukraine, nor with the issue of Kosovo."

"The OSCE has good cooperation with Prime Minister Vučić. We have had good cooperation with him when he was deputy prime minister and he will receive the support of the OSCE, and not at all lecturing. We are proud of our partnership with government and non-government sectors" she said, and stressed that the OSCE was "there to help."

"The prime minister said he wanted to go on the path of reforms, and that includes adoption of three laws, which is what we are working on together," she said.

The talk show's host Olja Bećković announced that she had also invited Vučić, but that he did not "respond." Bećković also noted that five different ministers from the ranks of the SNS party were invited to be a guest on the show, but that "none was able to make it."

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