Serbia: Chilling effect on media freedom by verdict against journalist and editor

The EFJ affiliates in Serbia, Journalist Association  of Serbia,(UNS)  Independent Asossociation of Serbia (NUNS) , Journalists Union of Serbia (SINOS), joined by media society organisations and one foundation accused the Serbian government and the court to have openly exerted pressure on the Serbian media. As they wrote in a press release “The trial in the lawsuit against Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic NIN is one of the most effective because it lasted only one day”.

Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic has won a lawsuit he filed against the weekly NIN over their article, “Nebojsa Stefanovic, the main “Savamala phantom”. The Higher Court in Belgrade decided that the editor of  NIN, Milan Ćulibrk and journalist Sandra Petrusic are to pay a fine of  300,000 dinars (2424€) for causing non-material damages to Stefanovic by violating his honor and reputation.

Culibrk said that NIN will appeal the verdict, “and if necessary go to the Constitutional Court or the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

“We had nothing against citizen Nebojsa Stefanovic, we have (something) against Police Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, because the police in the night between April 24 and 25 last year did not intervene as people with balaclavas and bulldozers were demolishing the center of Belgrade, and because eight months after that the police did nothing to reveal who these people were, and under whose orders they did the tearing down. As long as this is the case we will consider the minister of the police to be the most responsible in the whole story,” said Culibrk to B92.

According to the EFJ affiliates and media during the trial held on November 29 before the Higher Court in Belgrade, Stefanovic said that his professional reputation and honor were damaged by the weekly’s writings, while Culibrk and journalist Sandra Petrusic, both of whom Stefanovic sued along with the magazine, said the article never claimed that Stefanovic demolished the buildings in Hercegovacka St. – but instead spoke about his political responsibility “as the personification of the first man of the police.”

“Penalising editors and journalists with a large fine when reporting about persons working in official positions is extremely damaging for journalism and its watchdog role. It invites to self-censorship and thereby violates media freedom”, said EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard.

The media coalition includes NUNS, UNS, NDNV (Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina), Association of Media, Local Press (association of local media), AOM (Association of online media), ANEM (Association of independent electronic media) and Slavko Curuvija Foundation. It is  maybe for the first time in Serbia that so many media organisations got together to protest against such rigorous interference of both state and legislative power in Serbia.

Photo credit: Tanjug / Sava Radovanovic.

More information, see:

In English:

In Serbian:

The article was originally published by the European Federation of Journalists