Open season on journalists during Serbia’s municipal elections

Serbia’s local elections on 2 June saw a surge in press freedom violations, with reporters being subjected to physical and verbal attacks and smear campaigns carried by tabloid media outlets. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the authorities to make every effort to arrest those responsible for the violence and to guarantee journalists’ safety.

The victims of the attacks on journalists on 2 June included Mašina news site reporter Marko Miletic, who was subjected to intimidation outside the local branch of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in the north Belgrade suburb of Zemun Polje by SNS activists, who surrounded him and tried to grab the phone he was using to film their branch office.

The victims also included Ugljesa Bokic, a reporter for the Danas newspaper, who was physically attacked by a former policeman in Novi Sad, the capital of the autonomous northern province of Vojvodina, when he tried to interview youths fleeing a fair in the city after an opposition group accused them of conducting fake polls designed to favour the SNS. Punches to the chest left Bokic with bruising around his sternum. SNS activists meanwhile attacked several other journalists with pepper spray to prevent them from working.

As well as physical attacks, journalists were also subjected to smear campaigns in pro-government tabloid media. The victims included news site reporter Zarko Bogosavljevic, who was accused of violent behaviour in polling stations – accusations that were unfounded, according to local independent media. Dinko Gruhonjic, a freelance reporter who was already threatened in March, was the target of defamatory leaflets distributed outside polling stations.

“Open season on journalists has been declared in Serbia. The surge in attacks and their violence suggest that those responsible were counting on impunity. We call on the authorities to finally take urgently needed measures to guarantee the safety of those who keep us informed. It is vital that politicians put a stop to practices within their own ranks that are hostile to press freedom, and that the tabloid media stop carrying smear campaigns.

Pavol Szalai
Head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk

Serbia is ranked 98th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2024 World Press Freedom Index, its lowest ranking since the Index was created in 2002. It is also the lowest ranking among the countries that composed the former Yugoslavia.

98/ 180
Score : 54.48
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