Serbian Defence Minister will be dismissed after insulting a journalist of B92 station. This announcement by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić comes after a general outcry of journalists, media outlets, professional associations and general public. EU, as well as OSCE media representative, often criticize Serbia for shortcomings in the freedom of media.
Statement of a minister was, indeed, „unbelievable even for the circumstances in Serbia“, as Commissioner for Information of Public Importance Rodoljub Šabić put it.
Scandal took place on December 6 during the visit of the Minister Bratislav Gašić to the Prva petoletka factory in Trstenik, central Serbia, when journalists were waiting in front of the factory to record statements, part of them bended or on their knees in order to enable colleagues with cameras to do their part of job. Gašić looked down at journalists, and told „I love (female) journalists that kneel this easily“.
His excuse wasn’t immediate, but followed late in the evening, after the general outcry in both journalist associations and general public. This aspect was in particular outlined by the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (in Serbian UNS), that said that the excuse would seem more sincere had it been given immediately.
This association draws attention also to the lack of solidarity between journalists, as others didn’t stop recording statement as sign of protest for the inadequate treatment of their colleague. Such lack of solidarity in Serbia was marked many times in Serbia in situations as serious as lay offs without proper explanation in both private and public media.
Independent Associations of Journalists in Vojvodina (NDNV) goes even further to say that Gašić’s act illustrates the way how the authorities treat journalists, media freedom, but also citizens of Serbia.
„We are happy that the outrageous act of the Minister provoke, at least for the time being, appropriate reaction in public, and we hope that this is the alert sign that would encourage our colleagues to start fighting for their own dignity and rights“, the NDNV said in a communiqué.
Protest on this occasion was also organized on December 7th.
Despite the minister being fired, many in the Government appeared to have some understanding for their colleague. It is true that the Prime Minister Vučić said that „today we draw a line between those who“ are for a „normal and decent Serbia“ and those who are not. However, he also outlined that Gašić was a good minister, who „was doing his job 10 times better than those that criticize him“.
Labour Minister Aleksandar Vulin openly stood to defend Gašić, saying that he is confident that Gašić knows what he told was inadequate, „Mr Gašić“ is a good and honest man, and that he is the one who now feels the most sorry.
One eminent TV presenter and critic of the politics and society Zoran Kesić asked how Gašić’s act fit into the values of traditional Serbian society, orthodox faith, as well as values of the military.
Gašić himself expressed his excuses once more at a press conference on december 8. He told he will now be dedicated to promoting and protecting women’s rights. However, once more he expressed disregard for journalists by not giving them opportunity to ask questions. Press conference was boycotted by some media, including Beta agency.
By Smiljana Vukojičić Obradović