The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is concerned about several recent developments in the SEEMO region’s media environment.
Political pressure was exerted on journalists in late June in Macedonia (Republic of Macedonia – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), when Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski accused several correspondents from Brussels of “speculating to the expense of their own country” following his official visit to the country. Gruevski also suggested that the media should work in the country’s interests. SEEMO condemns such statements as an unacceptable attempt to impinge on journalistic independence, and emphasizes that journalists have a right to report what they see, including by articulating critical opinions and encouraging dynamic debate, which are vital in democratic societies.
SEEMO also expresses concern about the case of Boris Pejovic, a photojournalist for the Montenegrin daily Republika and the EPA press photo agency. Pejovic was arrested by the police on 12 June at 12.30 pm, while reporting on a protest by workers of a local company.
During the protest, Pejovic and other journalists were asked to move to the side, from where they continued to cover the event. A police officer then approached Pejovic, but refused to recognise his official press document, issued by Pejovic’s newspaper. Pejovic was taken to a police office, where he remained for about one hour. According to Pejovic, he was treated like “the worst criminal”, and was not permitted to call either his newspaper or a lawyer. As Pejovic reported, the police chief told him that he “has no rights”, and that the policeman could apply physical force, without suffering any consequences. Pejovic was released without having received any sort of written document regarding the reasons for his arrest, but subsequently received an official communication indicating that he would be charged for an offence.
SEEMO condemns such behaviour by the police. Journalists have the right to be present at events of public importance in order to report on them. SEEMO is especially concerned about the fact that Pejovic was arrested and not allowed to use the phone to call his lawyer.
SEEMO was also informed of a problematic Montenegrin draft law, the Law on Electronic Communications, which provides that the council members of the Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services shall be appointed by the government. This clearly provides an opportunity for direct political influence on the media. SEEMO requests the parliament and the government of Montenegro to consider international standards and to propose a law that permits the media to remain independent.
SEEMO is alarmed about these cases, all of which involve pressure on journalists and the principle of freedom of expression. Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General, noted, “it is vital for journalists to be able to carry out their work in safety, and to be able to report freely on current affairs. Any attempts to influence media independence, whether by way of verbal or physical harassment, or by way of laws that don’t conform to international standards, are unacceptable in modern society.”