Election campaigning by state officials typical for Serbia, CRTA says

Election campaigning by state officials typical for Serbia, CRTA says

Election campaigning by state officials typical for Serbia, CRTA says Izvor: N1

Rasa Nedeljkov from the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) told N1 TV on Wednesday that in the last two weeks, state officials used 250 events to promote their party.

He said that during the state of emergency introduced in fighting the coronavirus epidemic on March 15 and lifted on May 6, the highest administration officials organised rallies which, "to say the least," resembled the campaigning by officials phenomenon.

"After the delivery of ventilators and medical aid to (southwestern town of) Novi Pazar and the southern city of Nis (done by President Aleksandar Vucic) the activities were reduced but did not stop," Nedeljkov said.

He added that CRTA's observers recorded 250 happenings which were PR events organised by state and local officials after the state emergency was lifted.

They, Nedeljkov said, "promoted the results and opened facilities, presenting something made (possible) by all the citizens as their party's success."

"We have appealed for that to stop, that during the election campaign officials do not take part in the opening of projects financed by people, especially if they are on an electoral list. But that is what we witness now," he added.

Nedeljkov described the changes in electoral laws as 'minor', adding they did not reduce the campaigning by officials, let alone unrooted it.

"Serbia has erased the line between the public and party interest. (That's why) It is important how the media report, whether they take care of that phenomenon and whether the reporting is balanced," he said.

Nedeljkov added that "Serbia's media, especially TV channels with national frequency, report on officials' activities during the campaign."

As an independent, non-partisan civil society organisation, committed to developing democratic culture and civic activism which also observes Serbia's elections, CRTA has monitored five TV channels with national coverage since people mostly got information from them.

"During the state of emergency, those TVs had 91 percent reports about the state and government officials. We monitored the extended prime time, every second from 4:30 pm till midnight, and it showed a huge time given to the officials. The analysis showed that when the reports were not neutral, they were biased in favour of the officials, while those who decided to boycott were treated in a negative tone or had little air time. The representatives of the regime could speak for themselves, while those who boycott the vote were spoken about," Nedeljkov said.

Commenting on N1 TV decision to ask politicians concrete questions and not to air their PR content, Nedeljkov said it was "an excellent move. That should be a practice for the media to question parties' plans and ideas, to confront opinions and let voters decide who to trust based on the exchange of views."

"I hope that the public broadcaster (RTS TV) will follow suit," he added.

Nedeljkov says that CRTA has over 120 observers on the ground across the country who will monitor all phenomena which could hurt the election process.

"They are trying to record the campaigning by officials and cases of public resources abuse, to collect testimonies and proves of suspected vote-buying, pressure and blackmail so that we can help the investigative institutions to check on that and start proceedings, he said.

Nedeljkov added that another group of CRTA's observers would also continue to monitor media, including websites and press, as well as social networks.  

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