After the party of a Serbian government minister vilified an investigative editor as a ‘drug addict’, the EU has reminded Belgrade that it will be tracking Serbia’s respect for a free media during the accession process.

By: BIRN, Maja Zivanovic

The EU press service has reminded would-be-member Serbia that freedom of expression is an important value of the European club – and that Serbia’s respect for it will be examined closely during its accession process.

The EU was responding to unease over the case of an investigative website editor, Stevan Dojcinovic, who was called “drug addict” by the party of Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin – as well as over the separate case of Vranjske novine editor and former head of the Serbian journalists’ association, Vukasin Obradovic.

He went on hunger strike this week in protest over the closure of his newspaper and over what he termed the suffocation of the independent media in Serbia.

“Freedom of expression is one of the EU’s fundamental values and one of the core elements of Serbia’s European integration process,” the EU told BIRN in a statement.

The statement added that attacks on the integrity of journalists that hinder their professional work violate the values of media freedom.

“The EU will continue to monitor the situation in this area in the context of [Serbian] accession negotiations,” the statement warned.

Minister Vulin’s Movement of Socialists party called Crime and Corruption Reporting Network editor Dojcinovic a “drug addict” on Monday after KRIK published a critical report investigating the origin of the money that Vulin had used to buy an apartment.

The same day, Obradovic, the founder of Vranjske novine and former head of the Serbian journalists’ association, NUNS, went on hunger strike after being forced to close his newspaper.

Obradovic later called off the hunger strike for medical reasons. But NUNS on Tuesday accused the Serbian authorities of using state institutions to suffocate the independent media via bodies like the tax authorities and the courts.

NUNS said local media are even more vulnerable to such pressure from “local bullies”, because they rely heavily on a limited advertising market “that to a great extent depends on state authorities”.

The EU said that the allocation of funding for media content serving the public interest should be fair, transparent, unbiased and open to all on equal terms. “Independent, pluralistic and strong media are the cornerstone of any democratic society,” it noted.

The same statement noted that the role of a free media is to hold governments accountable, promote good governance and transparency, and facilitate the free flow of quality and well-researched information on matters of public interest.

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