The International Press Institute (IPI), the Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI) and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS) called on European institutions to make it clear that Serbia risks losing access to pre-accession funds if the media situation in the country continues to deteriorate.
The three organizations expressed “deep concern” over the findings on media freedom and freedom of expression in the European Parliament’s Report on Serbia 2022, which MEPs adopted last week.
“Free media, and thus functional democracy, are in increasing danger in Serbia.” We welcome the strong formulation of the European Parliament, but we believe that more must be done in order to protect the rights and freedoms of Serbian journalists and the media,” it is said.
IPI, BFMI and IJAS state that Serbia, as a candidate country for EU membership, must adhere to the principles and policies of the Union, and point out that “democracy and the rule of law are currently under threat”, that “free media are of vital importance for preserving those fundamental rights” and that “their protection must be ensured”.
The findings of the European Parliament and Rapporteur Vladimír Bilčík, based on the European Commission report from October 2022, are damning and record that no progress has been made in the past year across all 33 negotiations chapters, including the freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
Expressing concern over the crisis faced by independent journalism and media freedom in Serbia, the three organizations remind that Serbia fell by 12 positions, from 79th to 91st place, according to Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index.
IPI, BFMI and IJAS also point to the statement of several international organizations for freedom of the press, published during the recent visit of their representatives to Belgrade, in which it was pointed out that “no tangible progress has been achieved in the matter of media freedom, despite positive developments”.
The European Parliament report finds that activists, journalists and media outlets face pressure, intimidation, harassment, hate speech and attacks in Serbia. Meanwhile, the wider media market is distorted by a lack of transparency of media ownership and state financing. The report also urges the government to ensure the independence of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM).
Furthermore, the report makes clear that Serbia has become a hub for pro-Russian disinformation and anti-EU rhetoric since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The report states this is the result of “long-standing anti-EU/pro-Russian political rhetoric widely spread via government-controlled media as well as by government officials.”, according to IPI, BFMI and IJAS.