On Wednesday, November 3, 2022, the information was published on the official web portal of Serbian courts that judge Natasa Petricevic Milisavljevic had issued a verdict against KRIK in the case of Gasic vs. KRIK. Bratislav Gasic sued KRIK in April 2021 for damage to reputation and honor because of a news report that KRIK published from the trial of the criminal group of Zoran Jotic Jotka. In the news report, KRIK conveyed information as to what was happening in the courtroom and quoted a wiretapped conversation of the members of the criminal group which involved a mention of the BIA director Bratislav Gasic.
Gasic demanded half a million dinars for damage to reputation and honor. During the trial, four hearings were scheduled, while only two were held. The last one was held on October 4, 2022. On the official web portal of Serbian courts there is information stating that the lawsuit was partially accepted, and that the verdict was dispatched on November 3, 2022. The amount for which the lawsuit was accepted is still unknown because the verdict has not reached the defendant KRIK.
In the news report, KRIK cited the evidence presented at the trial in accordance with Article 74 of the Public Information and Media Law. According to this provision, “Information from an ongoing criminal proceeding may be published if it was presented at the main trial or if it was obtained or could be obtained from public authorities based on the law regulating access to information of public importance.” In accordance with the Serbian Journalists’ Code of Ethics, KRIK gave Gasic the opportunity to explain the allegations, but he did not act on it. Gasic did not use his legal right to request a denial after the publication of the article, nor did he deny the disputed allegations made in court through other media; instead, he resorted to a lawsuit, which should be an option only when all other mechanisms for protecting one’s reputation and honor have been exhausted, which leads us to believe that the goal of this lawsuit was financial exhaustion of KRIK.
The Coalition for Media Freedom warns of an increase in lawsuits received by the media for citing testimonies or evidence from trials. It is already difficult for the media to report from the courtrooms, and verdicts such as the one against KRIK will make it practically impossible, while they also encroach on the essential role of the media in a democratic society to report information of public importance. Mentioning government officials / office holders in any court proceeding would pass any public interest test as something citizens have the right to know about.
Coalition for Media Freedom: Association of Media, Association of Online Media (AOM), Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina (NDNV), Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), Business Association of the Association of Local and Independent Media “Local Press”, Slavko Curuvija Foundation.