More than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, top politicians and party leaders in South East Europe are still struggling to accept free media and live with criticism. They publicly accuse journalists of undermining national interests, treason, mafia ties, conspiracies, etc.
The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), observes with growing concern the way top politicians in South East Europe speak to media and about media. Press freedom is the basis of democracy, underlines Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General. Public figures have to live with criticism in media.
Numerous recent examples illustrate this trend.
On 17 July 2012, Romanian interim president Crin Antonescu labeled the U.S. daily The Washington Post and the French newspaper Le Monde as contaminated publications. Antonescu blamed the papers for Romanias deteriorated international image. One week earlier, Senator Dan Sova accused the Brussels correspondent of the Romanian public radio ofintoxicating the international public opinion and foreign officials by transmitting false information that compromise the current Romanian government.
In Bulgaria, on 5 July 2012, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov lost patience with the media that had criticized the work of the Ministry of Interior and said: Whoever criticizes the Ministry of the Interior serves the mafia.
President of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, the man who dominated Montenegros political scene for two decades, either as a prime minister or a president, said in an interview to the Belgrade magazine Vreme that the objective of the Montenegrin dailies, Vijesti and Dan, and the Monitor weekly was to destroy and smear Montenegro and him personally.
Molorad Dodik, president of the Serb-governed territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, declared on 4 June 2012, that press freedom was guaranteed. Two days earlier, as SEEMO reported, on 2 June 2012, Dodik asked Ljiljana Kovacevic, the local correspondent of the Belgrade-based Beta News Agency, to leave a press conference and to not return. Using disrespectful language to address the journalist, Dodik also called her a liar.
On 13 May 2012, Tomislav Nikolic, then presidential candidate and currently Serbias president, said during the TV show Rec po Rec (Word by Word), produced by Serbia’s public broadcaster, Radio Television Serbia (RTS), that once elected president, he would call RTS and say: “I am coming to the television tonight, you will inform about everything I do, I am the president of Serbia,” quoted the Association of Serbian Journalists (UNS).
In an interview with the state news agency, MIA, published on 18 October 2011, the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia/Republic of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, criticized the journalist Borjan Jovanovski for posing a particular question during a 12 October 2012 press conference in Brussels, Belgium. Gruevski accused the journalist of asking a prearranged question, intended to prepare the terrain for next years withdrawal of the recommendation [to start accession talks], if the name dispute [with Greece] is not solved by then. Gruevski asked why Jovanovski was sitting in the press room, and why it was him and not another journalist who had the right to ask a question.
I call on politicians in South East Europe to stop publicly naming and shaming journalists, said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General. Politicians have to understand that press freedom is the basis of democracy. If media do not comply with ethical standards, there are channels to place complaints. Accusing journalists of being traitors or mafia agents, without any proof, does not contribute to the respect of the rule of law. It can only lead to self censorship, he added.