The European Union is especially concerned with the hate speech and fake news in Serbia, particularly when they come from the ruling party and key media," Tanja Fajon, an MEP, and the chairwoman of the European Parliament (EP) Delegation to EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, told the ENEX, an association of the world's leading commercial TV broadcasters' conference hosted by N1 TV in Belgrade on Friday.
The two-day conference mostly dealt with media freedom and the rising of populism across the world.
The EU does not see the progress in free media and pluralism," Fajon says and adds that "in the last month, some improvement is noticed."
She said the situation during the election campaign would be particularly monitored.
"The Freedom House 2019 report put Serbia from the free countries group down to the partly free. It suggests there are attempts by the Government to violate the election process, as well as to undermine the independent journalists through intimidation and 'blurred' campaign," Fajon said, adding that "another problem was the (Aleksandar Vucic) President's accumulated executive powers contrary to his Constitutional rule."
Only Serbia's official who came to the ENEX conference, was the Ministry of Culture and Information state secretary Aleksandar Gajovic disagreed with Fajon's view based on Freedom House report.
"On the contrary, in some cases, freedom advanced. I can't agree with claims by some international non-governmental organisations like Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders that Serbia has limited freedom and that we regress in some areas. I'm afraid I can't agree with that because I believe that those studies are not based on facts," Gajovic said.
President Vucic, as well as other Government officials, haven't appeared though have been invited.
"We have two realities – a part of the opposition boycott the elections saying there are no fair conditions and that the regime controls the media. And if you look at the Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders reports, you see they prove there is no democracy and that the level of freedom is declining. On the other hand, the European officials say everything is all right and the elections should be held. If they don't care about those reports, why should Vucic?" Slobodan Georgijev, BIRN and Vreme weekly journalist, said.
Ljiljana Smajlovic, a journalist, said that Vucic "wants to present himself to his voters as a small Balkan leader who fights against big world powers, American TV, KKR, the richest investment. He is not afraid of good journalism, but all of this perfectly fits his political agenda."
N1 TV Executive Producer Igor Bozic said that "they force you to deal with yourself daily and explain what is true. In that way, they disturb you in doing your primary journalistic job – to follow information of public interest."
ENEX gathers almost 60 TV broadcasters around the world, including CBS, Sky, RTL, as well as crucial channels in the Central and Eastern Europe like POP TV, Bulgarian BTV, Romanian PRO TV. They hold annual meetings to look into the most critical issues in the TV industry.
"There are a lot of things threatening free media. Not only in Serbia but also in the US, Hungary, UK and many other countries. The media are used as a culprit and someone that politicians will always blame for the problems they want to avoid," ENEX's Managing Director Adrien Wells told the conference.
Mark Evans, the news editor at ENEX, said that "from an editor's perspective, one thing that is challenging to everyone is a hostile environment created by governments and people who try to undermine democratic processes. N1 is one of the companies which are facing extremely hostile circumstances and challenges from the Government and the wider community."