Despite Serbia advancing in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, Serbian journalists report facing a persistent culture of framing independent media as a hostile force to the government.
In 2021, the World Press Freedom Index rated Serbian media as “partly free,” pointing to an increase in attacks on journalists as well as arbitrary arrests of reporters.
Serbian journalist Slobodan Georgiev experienced these attacks firsthand when he uncovered ties between President Aleksander Vučić’s brother Andrej Vučić and a notorious businessman from Kosovo in 2019.
In the wake of Georgiev’s reporting, a video released on social media described the journalist as a “foreign mercenary” and a “traitor.” A soundtrack of sirens heard across Serbia during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign played in the background of the film.
In recent months, Georgiev has been accused of being a Bulgarian spy, on account of his purportedly Bulgarian surname.
“When you say in Serbia that someone is a Bulgarian, it’s a very bad thing. Now they call me ‘Bulgarian Guy’ in public, people from the ruling party,” Georgiev told reporters, “Whenever I publish something on Twitter, these squads of bots come like flies and bomb my account with comments, ‘Hey Bulgarian, how’s Bulgaria?'”
Last month, Aleksander Vucić secured his second term as President of Serbia, escalating fears of Serbian journalists that media freedom in the country has little chance of improvement in the coming five years.
When Vucić was minister of information under Slobodan Milosevic during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, he introduced official censorship under which critics of the war, including Serbian journalists, were classified as enemies of the state.
“We had this very nationalistic machinery a part of which was dedicated to anti-war initiatives, labelling them as foreign mercenaries and domestic traitors,” explains Vukosava Crnjanski, director of Serbian democracy watchdog CRTA.
“This language actually is coming back heavily in the last several years under Vučić. They started silencing every free voice in Serbia,” he continued.
At the same time, Serbian tabloids and pro-government television programming continue to cast Serbian journalists as “media terrorists, as people who are against the president, when they present us as foreign mercenaries, as people paid by CIA to destroy this country.”
The European Union and the Biden administration have criticized the Serbian government over media freedom in the country. Vucić has responded to allegations of media repression by describing himself as a victim of persecution.
Image via Pixabay