Serbia’s CINS Journalists Win European Press Prize

Photo: Dino Jahić

The Serbian Centre for Investigative Journalism on Thursday became the first media outlet from the country to win the European Press Prize – but at home it faces much official hostility. 

by Filip Rudic, BIRN, Belgrade

An investigative media outlet from Serbia, the Serbian Centre for Investigative Journalism, CINS, won the European Press Prize 2017 on Thursday in Amsterdam.

“It feels great to win this award. It is an encouragement to keep working and a confirmation of our efforts so far,” Dino Jahic, CINS editor-in-chief, said on receiving the award.

CINS received the European Press Prize, sometimes likened to the “European Pulitzer”, for articles that probed the Serbian government’s boasts of success in prosecuting corruption and organized crime.

The jury led by former London Times editor Sir Harold Evans said the CINS investigation was “a testimony to the work of really good … reporters, serving their community”.

Back home, however, the CINS is routinely under fire in the pro-government media. The daily Informer has run front-page stories accusing it of “criminal intentions” and of working against the government.

“Our problem is the constant pressure that comes from accusations of being mercenaries, enemies of the state and other nonsense that the pro-regime tabloids and media accuse us of,” Jahic told BIRN.

He added that the attacks seem aimed at making journalists feel they must constantly justify themselves and their work.

In November 2016, the CINS claimed that some of its journalists were being followed and secretly recorded.

Since Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic came to power in 2012, he has been accused of undermining free speech and freedom of the press in Serbia.

In its 2016 report, the watchdog organisation Human Rights Watch said independent journalism in the Balkans was “up against the wall”, adding that journalists across the region faced a hostile environment that impeded their ability to conduct critical reporting.

Independent journalists in Serbia say they often receive threatening messages, including death threats.

The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia recorded 53 attacks on journalists last year – eight physical, 22 verbal, 22 cases of pressure and one attack on property.

Investigative journalism outlets are often targeted by pro-government media who depict them as “foreign mercenaries” and accuse them of espionage and of seeking to destabilize the country.

Another investigative news outlet, KRIK, was recently nominated for the Freedom of Expression award, which is awarded for “courageous, high-impact and determined journalism that exposes censorship and threats to free expression”, according to the non-profit organization Index on Censorship.

KRIK was part of the team of investigative journalists that worked on the Panama Papers project, which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize.

Deputy editor-in-chief of KRIK Bojana Jovanovic says KRIK has been vilified by the authorities practically since they started working in 2015.

“We suspect we are under surveillance by the intelligence services. The reason to suspect this came after ‘Informer’ published details from our still unpublished investigation into the property of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic – even the working title of our article,” Jovanovic told BIRN.

Despite the hostile atmosphere, many independent journalists in Serbia have faith in their mission. Jahic says the European Press Prize nomination, alongside other awards, proves that some journalists are doing their job well.

“I think this speaks enough about the company we are in and how much our work is appreciated,” Jahic said.

“The awards are very important because they confirm that we did good work, and that it has not gone unnoticed,” Bojana Jovanovic of KRIK said.

The article was republished from Balkan Insight with permission.