Serbian Move to Retain Crime of Libel Criticised

Journalists’ association says that by backing away from pledge to decriminalize slander and defamation, the government is encouraging pressure on the media.The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, NUNS, protested on Tuesday against a Justice Ministry work group’s decision to scrap moves to decriminalize slander and defamation.

“The fact that this part of the criminal code is being retained, and the very possibility of journalists going to prison for doing their job, reinforces repressive mechanisms against the media,” the association said.

On Monday, Zoran Stojanovic, head of the Ministry’s working group for changes to the criminal code, said there would be no decriminalisation of libel and defamation, as deletion of those crimes from the law had nothing to do with meeting European justice standards.

“All countries in the EU have the crime of libel and defamation in their criminal code, so the question is whether we are going to look to Moldova and Georgia, which erased the crime from the law, or to Germany and Italy,” Stojanovic said.

But NUNS says comparisons with countries like Germany, which also has slander laws, were unhelpful. This is because in those countries 95 per cent of slander cases involving journalists are settled in private suits and not in criminal proceedings, it said.

Offenders found guilty of slander or defamation in the press, radio, television or at public meetings under the new criminal code could now face fines of 30,000 dinar [265€] to 300,000 [2,650€]. So far, the fines ranged from 100,000 dinar [880€] to a million dinar [8,800€].

For publishing facts about someone’s family life that violate their honour and reputation, offender faces up to a year’s imprisonment.

During 2011, there were 242 civil procedures against media owner, journalists and editors over published information, mostly invoving alleged violations of honour and reputations.

Stefano Sannino, the EU Director General for Enlargement, said during his visit to Belgrade in January that the European Commission supported the deletion of slander and defamation from the Serbian criminal code.

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