Campaigners Sound Alarm over Attacks on Media

A south-east Europe press freedom group has raised concerns about political pressure and hate speech directed against media across the Balkans in recent months.The South East Europe Media Organisation, SEEMO, said that some politicians had threatened journalists while some media had flouted professional standards and endangered press colleagues.

SEEMO said in a statement on Sunday that it was “alarmed at the number of press freedom violations in south-east Europe in recent months”.

The statement expressed concern about the arrest on January 14 of Etelva Skonja, a well-known investigative journalist from the daily newspaper Kosova Sot in Pristina.

Skonja was detained after she recorded an interview with a member of Kosovo’s judicial council.

The newspaper alleged that the arrest was intended to scare the journalist, who was investigating the work of several judges.

SEEMO criticised a daily newspaper in Macedonia which asked its readers to name which journalists they thought were gay – a move which the campaign group said could put the lives of those named in danger.

It also accused Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia’s Serb-run entity Republika Srpska, of verbally attacking Vlado Trsic, director of the BN TV channel from the town of Bijljina, during a telephone call.

“It is not the first time that Dodik’s behavior has been unbecoming of a politician – he has reacted similarly in the past when unhappy with media reports,” SEEMO said.

In Serbia, SEEMO raised concerns about alleged ethnic hate speech directed at staff at the national broadcaster of the Vojvodina region, RTV, and members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vojvodina, by one magazine and several internet portals.

“We should not forget that as a result of hate speech in media there have been physical attacks against – but also murders of – journalists in the past,” said SEEMO’s secretary general, Oliver Vujovic.

SEEMO also criticised Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who on February 5 was reported to have threatened journalists with investigation by the secret services after a website published allegations that he had worked as a security informant in the 1990s.

“Arresting journalists who are doing their job, but also the making, by politicians, of verbal threats against journalists is not acceptable and a clear attack on press freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of reporting,” said Vujovic.

A global press freedom index published by campaign group Reporters Without Borders last month ranked Romania in 42nd place in the world, with Serbia 63rd, Croatia 64th, Bosnia 68th, Kosovo 85th, Bulgaria 87th, Montenegro 113rd and Macedonia falling to 116th, at the bottom of the list of Balkan countries.

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