Germany’s ARD said that independent journalism in Serbia is under pressure, adding journalists at N1 TV are worried about a looming deal between the state-controlled Telekom Serbia and the private Telenor cable and mobile services companies.
It said that some journalists are under direct pressure, including death threats but added that the establishment can be used against independent journalists. “At this moment, N1 TV, which is known for its politically independent reporting, is worried about its future,” ARD said.
Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) President Zeljko Bodrozic told ARD that N1 is one of the few in Serbia. “For years we have seen that most media were involved in the worst propaganda in favor of (President) Aleksandar Vucic and the regime. More recently, N1 and Nova have been trying to show the public what is really happening in a quality and professional manner,” he said.
ARD said that independent reporting in Serbia is hard and added that N1 staff have complained from the start of attempts to discredit, obstruct and endanger them. At present they are concerned about the Telekom Serbia-Telenor deal, fearing that they could be pushed out of the market. N1 Executive Producer Igor Bozic explained: “The market is supposed to serve as an excuse for politics”. Telekom and Czech billionaire Petr Kellner’s Telenor are planning to unite and push the SBB cable provider (owned by United Group along with N1) out of the market. N1 and Nova S are only available to SBB clients and not on Telekom’s cable platform. Telekom never denied those plan but claimed the deal was purely economic and would even reinforce competition on the market. Telenor made similar claims.
Bozic said the plan might work. “When someone uses absolutely all means available to a state with the intention of destroying certain media, we won’t be able to go on as normal and equal competitors on the market,” he said.
NUNS President Bodrozic said that on paper Serbia has something called media diversity but in practice every station with national coverage is under direct or indirect control by President Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) or business people linked to the authorities. “Independent stations like N1 would just be a problem,” he said, adding that the authorities are now trying to get full control over the media. “The state has obviously found a partner in Telenor who is prepared to – and we have seen this in Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary – cooperae with the powerful and create an illusion of democracy and media pluralism,” Bodrozic said.
ARD recalled that Serbia has regularly been getting bad grades from Brussels about freedom of the media. The European Commission is now saying that the planned Telekom-Telenor merger is being monitored carefully.
Reporters Without Borders is also concerned but the warnings could prove insufficient and that’s what many in Serbia fear. It warned that journalists in Serbia are being slandered by officials, are not safe and can’t count on state protection.
Said Bodrozic: “Our concern is if (Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor) Orban can do this in the EU, what can we expect as a candidate country”.