The Independent Journalists’ Society of Vojvodina (NDNV) called on the Serbian government to explain why it decided to allow only it Crisis Staff to issue information about the coronavirus pandemic, warning that journalists could be held accountable for publishing true information, and some added it led to censorship.
“The Serbian legal system has measures to limit freedom of expression to prevent the spreading of false news and misinformation. We would expect the competent state bodies ti implement the existing regulations to combat the spread of false news and misinformation, not for the government to adopt a special conclusion,” the NDNV said in a statement.
The heads of the two biggest Serbian journalists’ organisations – NUNS and UNS – called the government to withdraw its decision to limit the release of information on the coronavirus pandemic to its Crisis Staff saying that it violates the constitutionally guaranteed right to complete and timely information about issues of public importance.
It asked whether the media can publish true information that they get through research and which has not been released by the Crisis Staff and if data from other sources should be considered untrustworthy. The NDNV warned that journalists could be held accountable and charged with causing panic and unrest if they report accurate information which was not released by the Crisis Staff.
The NDNV said that centralized releasing of information is censorship.
“The public interest means complete, unbiased, objective information and primarily control of the authorities which this decree makes absolutely impossible,” the statement said.
Many other media people and lawyers also commented on the news.
"What's worrying about it? It doesn't foresee clearly and unequivocally what those possible sanctions for disinformation will be? Generally, the issue is that the Government monopolises information and prevents the free flow of information," Milos Stojkovic, a lawyer, said.
That will especially hit local communities where the problem already exists.
"The decision is not in line with the Constitution and the Law on Access to Information of Public Importance; it is not in line with the Law on Public Information either. That could become censorship which we believed we got over and agreed that it should not exist even during the state of emergency, Tamara Filipovic, from the Independent Association of Serbia's Journalists, said.