Serbia: MFRR condemns dangerous and baseless smear campaign aimed at KRIK

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) condemns the smear campaign aimed at
the Network for Investigation of Crime and Corruption (KRIK) by pro-government media
outlets that propagated the baseless and dangerous claim that KRIK has a ‘secret deal’
with Veljko Belivuk, a recently arrested leader of an organised crime group.

On 9th and 10th March, a number of pro-Government media outlets alleged that KRIK is
coordinating with Belivuk to monitor or threaten the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić.
Tabloid newspapers, including The Serbian Telegraph, Kurir and Alo published
front-page articles that KRIK is Belivuk’s private media. Alo stated in its coverage, that
KRIK ‘served on the one hand as a megaphone of the criminal clan of Veljko Belivuk, and
on the other as an instrument of police officials who eavesdropped on the President of
Serbia and his family.’

On 9 March, pro-government Pink TV, a leading commercial broadcaster, stated in its
news show that “it is suspected that people from the top of the police provided KRIK
journalists with data on the movements of President Aleksander Vučić’s family
members.” Little verifiable or corroborated evidence has been shared to verify these
claims.

The publication of such baseless claims linking a reputable non-profit investigative outlet
to a prominent member of organised crime puts KRIK’s journalists and other staff at risk.
Moreover, we fear that these allegations may be used as a pretext to initiate police
investigation of the independent outlet and use state entities to further intimidate the
outlet. KRIK is one of the few outlets to publish stories on Belivuk’s gang and its ties with
the Serbian government and the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

Pro-Government media outlets should not be used to further enhance polarisation and
target independent media outlets. Due to the ongoing threats of violence from organised
crime in Serbia and endemic impunity in investigating attacks against journalists, this
smear campaign, if left unaddressed, could invite further threats and acts of violence
against KRIK and other independent outlets. Action is required to ensure the situation
does not escalate.

The MFRR joins the coalition of eight Serbian journalists’ and media associations in
calling for the Serbian Public Prosecutor’s Office to ‘deny completely unfounded and
dangerous insinuations about KRIK’s connection with criminal groups’. We will continue
to monitor the situation and call for thorough investigations into the smear campaign and
assurances that KRIK and all staff are protected.

ARTICLE 19
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists
Free Press Unlimited
International Press Institute (IPI)
OBC Transeuropa

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