The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East and Central Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is very pleased by several positive media developments in Serbia.
SEEMO salutes the decision of the High Court in Nis, in a defamation case against Serbian daily newspaper Narodnih Novina journalist Dragana Kocic and editor-in-chief Timosenko Milosavljevic, to rule in favour of the defendants. Together, the two had been sentenced by the Court of First Instance to pay a fine of 1,000,000 Serbian dinars (approx. 10,800 EUR) for publishing an article using quotes from official documents - an indictment against a former military official.
SEEMO considers the High Court verdict an important decision. SEEMO had been monitoring the trial against Kocic from the outset, issuing official protest statements criticising the case and also holding discussions with the Serbian authorities in Belgrade.
SEEMO is also pleased with a development in the case of Brankica Stankovic and her team of investigative reporters, who work for the B92 TV programme, "Insajder" ("Insider"). They had received several death threats while reporting on the activities of the leaders of extremist football fan clubs, and on 22 April 2010 the Serbian Court of First Instance rejected all charges against six persons detained in the matter, saying it was a private affair. The ruling triggered a chain of reactions throughout Serbia.
In a recent decision, though, the Higher Court of Appeal overruled the decision of the Court of First Instance and sentenced the leader of the Partizan football fan club one year and four months in prison over the alleged threat to the security of Stankovic in the form of chants such as: "You are dangerous snake and will end up like Curuvija" (a Serbian journalist shot in front of his apartment and whose killers have never been found). Additionally, the Higher Court of Appeal revoked the decision by the Court of First Instance in Belgrade, which had rejected the charges against six persons who allegedly threatened Stankovic, and returned the case to the Court of First Instance for further proceedings. SEEMO hopes the other persons connected to this case will be brought to justice as well.
SEEMO had also expressed concern about proposed amendments to the Law on Public Information which were drafted by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Justice, and were accepted in summer 2009 by the Serbian Parliament and signed by the Serbian President Boris Tadic. SEEMO objected when the Law on Public Information was handed down and has on several occasions criticised politicians in Belgrade because the proposed legislation inhibited media freedom. The amendments could have led to increased self-censorship and even the closure of some media organisations. Investigative journalism could have been greatly curtailed. However, in a positive development, the Constitutional Court of Serbia, which was examining the case, rejected certain provisions of the amended law.
It is also a very positive sign that the alleged perpetrators of the brutal attack on journalist Teofil Pancic of the Serbian weeklyVreme have been captured.
SEEMO reported that on the night of 24 July 2010 Pancic was attacked by two alleged perpetrators who beat him with metal bars as he sat in a packed public bus in Zemun, Serbia. After the attack, the perpetrators fled the scene leaving Pancic behind with concussion and injuries to his right arm.
SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said: "SEEMO welcomes the thorough police investigation which has proved to be highly efficient and serious, especially since the alleged perpetrators were identified on the basis of DNA analysis. However, it still needs to be determined who masterminded the obviously planned brutal attack on Pancic, and there remain many unresolved cases of attacks on journalists in Serbia which also require attention."
Vujovic added: "SEEMO also welcomes the decision of the Constitutional Court of Serbia rejecting certain provisions of the amended Law on Public Information which could threaten press freedom and were considered unconstitutional. The court decisions in Nis and Belgrade can definitely be seen as a step in the right direction towards helping the survival of investigative journalism."
"These, together with the detention of the alleged perpetrators of the attack on Pancic, are very positive and promising signals that Serbia is making steps towards a democratic society which allows press freedom. And towards the European Union."