Serbia’s Tabloid Attack Dog Serves Powerful Masters

Serbia’s Tabloid Attack Dog Serves Powerful Masters

Drew Sullivan (photo: OCCRP)

Did state intelligence or law enforcement help a Serbian tabloid smear independent investigative reporting organisation KRIK in a dirty-tricks campaign to stop revelations about the country’s government?

By Drew Sullivan

To the unwitting, the latest ‘investigation’ by the Serbian tabloid Informer is presented as a probe into an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government of Serbia. Agents of the mafia and foreign governments are posing as non-profit journalists to smear a hard-working, progressive prime minister. The intrepid reporters from Informer even figured out the plot, which they patiently explained to their readers – the evil reporters were trying to show that the prime minister had amassed a massive real-estate portfolio in Belgrade which he hid under the names of relatives.

To the trained eye, the Informer piece is laughable propaganda designed to lessen the blow of yet another revelation of wrongdoing by the Serbian government by KRIK.rs, BIRN and other non-profits. But looking deeper, there is something far more sinister and may indicate the Serbian government is committing gross crimes against the people in order to ensure its own longevity.

Informer’s ties with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic are well known. The tabloid’s owner and editor Dragan Vucicevic and Vucic have called each other friends, and Vucic has said the paper supports him. Informer has been a knee-jerk apologist and attack dog for the PM, slandering any and all media that dares to mention Vucic’s problems.

Since it was founded last summer, KRIK has dominated the tabloid’s pages, with repeated allegations of mafia and foreign intelligence service ties, including claims against this author and my organisation, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

But the latest series of stories is scarier for another reason.

While Informer’s attack stories in the past have been basically empty, anonymous charges, the latest have very disturbing information that appears to come from state intelligence or law enforcement sources.

Firstly, the article published on Thursday identified the story that KRIK was working on – investigating allegations that the prime minister has substantial real estate hidden in his family’s name. It is unlikely that Informer, generally known for its lazy, unsubstantiated, slipshod yellow journalism, was capable of figuring out what KRIK was doing.

The article also featured surveillance photos of Stevan Dojcinovic, the editor of KRIK, talking with people with criminal backgrounds, as he often does. The article stated that he is working for them.

A second article on Friday lists a number of intelligence and other sources who Dojcinovic allegedly talked to and questions he allegedly asked them. The information, if true, could only have been gathered from wire taps or from the BIA, Serbia’s intelligence organisation.

If false, it’s designed to discourage sources from talking to Dojcinovic and to hamstring his reporting.

Either way, why would law enforcement or the BIA help Informer unless they’re acting in the interests of the prime minister and using state resources to do so? It appears to be a grievous attempt at prior restraint of reporting by using state resources to stop the gathering of information by a free and open press. It also puts Dojcinovic and those who talk to him in danger.

From a journalistic standpoint, Informer’s behavior is criminally negligent.

Firstly, it has yet to prove anything journalistically. Dojcinovic, as every good reporter does, speaks to police, criminals, intelligence agents and anyone who might help him understand what is happening in the world. What is criminal about that? Nowhere is there any proof that KRIK is undermining the state.

But, if Informer is actually a dirty tricks agent for the government, this makes more sense and has dire implications for Serbia.

KRIK has examined allegations that people close to Vucic have ties to organised crime and corruption, has reported on controversies over the health minister’s alleged links with the criminal underground, uncovered apartments bought by Vucic’s protégé, Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali and published videos of the foreign minister meeting with a convicted drug lord.

These investigations brought strenuous attacks from Informer but nothing with any substantial information. But when KRIK dared look at Vucic and his family, it was immediately attacked using what may be government-collected data. It may be that Vucic is using the power of the state to try to crush independent media looking too closely at corruption allegations.

This behaviour is akin to the actions of Erdogan in Turkey and Putin in Russia. If the Vucic government will do this to media that investigate it, what else is it capable of? And why is it so worried about the work of KRIK?

It appears that KRIK’s carefully-researched stories on corruption could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Drew Sullivan is editor and co-founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Source: Balkan Insight

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