Jovica Vasic, a journalist with the daily Narodne novine in Niš (the third largest city in Serbia), who had been on a hunger strike for 10 days, ended his protest on 19 October.
With this hunger strike, Vasic wished to draw attention to his extremely precarious situation he, together with many other employees at his newspaper, has been experiencing as a journalist: “Working conditions have worsened at alarming level these last ten years, and it is not possible anymore to do our profession in a dignified way” he said, EFJ reports. He also said that his strike should draw attention to a degrading position of the journalism profession in the entire Serbia.
Vasic also protested because relevant inspectorates allegedly have not reacted to his notifications about working conditions at Narodne novine.
Despite having worked for 22 years, Vasic’s salary, according to him, was 22.300 dinars (roughly 180 EUR) and the salary had not changed since the outlet was privatized in 2006.
During the hunger strike, Vidosav Radomirovic visited Jovica Vasic and offered to find a solution, but Vasic said that this move was only a trick to make him break the strike so that the name of the Radomirovic family, which owns multiple media outlets in Niš and throughout Serbia, would stop showing up in public in such a negative context.
Vasic’s strike was reported on by local media not owned by the Radomirović family, as well as some national media. According to Vasic, there were no cameras except for those of TV N1, a CNN-affiliate with national coverage.
Journalists’ and media associations reacted and most of them visited Vasic. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) backed its Serbian affiliates in their call to protect Jovica Vasic.
‘We demand the work inspection and the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs to urgently examine the case of Niš-based Narodne novine and all other cases of breaching labour rights of journalists in Serbia’, reads the statement signed by journalists’ and media associations in Serbia on 18 October.
President of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, Vukasin Obradovic, said that he would do all it takes for the responsible authorities to examine Vasic’s allegations of wrongdoings in the companies owned by the Radomirovic family, and that he would talk to the representatives of the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Labour about socially precarious position of journalists.
‘I am pleased that we cleared away the possibility of the tragic end to the strike. Vasic showed in a drastic way how difficult the position of journalists in Serbia is nowadays and we will fight so that no other journalist ends up in the same situation’, Obradovic said.
Representatives of journalists’ associations from Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš who visited Vasic and offered him support calling on him to end the strike, promised him legal and financial aid. They also promised to insist on the institutions examining allegations about wrongdoings in Narodne novine.
Since Vasic considers his safety at threat, the Niš police promised to take measures to protect Vasic and his family.
Vasic broke the hunger strike having talked to the representatives of journalists’ associations and the head of the Niš police. He said that he does not wish to continue working at Narodne novine.
Labor rights of media professionals in Serbia
Although there is no official statistical data on the economic and social position of journalists, the body of research on the rights of media professionals notes that journalism as a profession in Serbia is unprestigious, highly stressful, work intensive, poorly paid, and with no perspective.
Journalists are mainly worried by job insecurity (according to a 2015 research, 60% fear losing job), legal insecurity and insecurity of working conditions, lack of social protection. They have low salaries, many below the state average, and the salaries are also often very late.
Labor rights of media professionals are not protected beyond the minimum provided by the general Labor Law. There is no collective agreement protecting the rights of media professionals. Syndical organization among media professionals has failed to take roots or yield positive results.
Journalists of media outside the capital are, along with freelancers and women journalists, in the most precarious position. Many have been laid off in the recent media privatization. Also, their salaries are significantly lower than those in the capital. As a consequence of the privatization, local media have lost a secure stream of income coming from municipal budgets, which reflects on journalists’ salaries.
The current state of the lack of integrity of media professionals produces poor, scared and therefore obedient journalists, which is a solid basis for self-censorship.