World Press Freedom Day Marked in Western Balkans9. May 2012 - 12:23 — Dejan Georgievski
According to the Freedom of the Press 2012 Report released by U.S. organisation Freedom House, all countries of the Western Balkans found themselves, on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, in the category of “partly free” countries. (Our report on the Freedom of the Press 2012 Report is available here).
Therefore, there were few, if any, reasons for celebrations on May 3, the World Press Freedom Day. Of course, highest state officials issued statements congratulating journalists their day and pledged, as usual, their dedication and commitment to improved freedom of expression, media freedoms and reforms of their countries’ respective media sectors.
A number of events were organized, including several protest actions, and journalists’ associations and trade unions came forward with demands for better conditions that would allow journalists to work free of pressure and censorship.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the BH Journalists Association marked the World Press Freedom Day with a presentation of its survey “Journalism, Public Opinion and Media Freedoms in BiH” in Sarajevo, a public debate in Banja Luka and distribution of information leaflet and materials about freedom of expression and journalists’ rights in 31 towns and cities.
At the presentation of the survey, the Secretary General of BH Journalists Association Borka Rudić noted that citizens included in the national poll believe that media freedoms are at a low level, while media face political and economic obstacles in their work.
At the press-conference that preceded the presentation, the participants noted that violations of journalists’ rights and the freedom of expression were on the rise and that state institutions need to take their share of responsibility to protect the members of the press and freedom of expression.
Ljiljana Zurovac, the Director of the BiH Press Council, said that the Council was insisting on citizens’ involvement in the process of improvement of professional standards in the media, allowing the citizens to file complaints and react to false reporting by the media.
The Association of Journalists of the Republic of Srpska said, in a statement on May 3, that only free and independent journalists can pursue their work with full responsibility and adherence to professional standards. The Association invited the journalists and the media to immediately report all forms of pressure, and called on the general public to support the fight for the freedom of the press, which is in their direct interest.
Lamentably, we have to note that it was on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, that an attack was registered on the editorial offices of Press RS and “Dnevni Avaz” in Banja Luka. One person, later identified as Dražen Kaurin, first entered the “Avaz” office, where he severely beat up journalist Brankica Spasojević and demolished the furniture. Kaurin then went to the office of Press RS, where he broke one computer and attempted to attack the editor-in-chief before he was arrested by the police.
The Croatian Journalists’ Society (HND) marked the World Press Freedom Day with presentation of annual Journalism Awards. The “Journalist of the Year” award went to HTV’s journalist Josip Šarić for his documentary “North Korea – Hungry Children of Communism”. The award for investigative journalism went to Ilko Ćimić from index.hr portal, for his coverage of the “Kamensko“ affair; the award for print journalism went to Goran Gerovac from Forum magazine; and the awards for radio and TV journalism went to Renata Škudar from Radio 101 and Danka Derifaj from Nova TV, respectively. Ivo Horvat was presented with the “Otokar Keršovani” lifetime achievement award.
HND and Journalists' Trade Union also organized the „Journalists Rise” protest which managed to gather just about 30 journalists. The Union president Anton Filić warned at the protest that journalists in Croatia were not free, that many are working without proper contract, that collective bargain agreements don't really function and journalists are kept away from the process of appointtment of editorial staff.
Croatian President Ivo Josipović held the traditional reception for the members of the press. In his remarks to the gathering, he did note the problem that the media are treated as commodity that is to be sold and bought in the market. In his view, combined with the economic difficulties facing the media business, it has led to attempts to „increase circulation and market success through orientation to popular and sensationalist topics“, which have had the opposite effect and led to „falling quality which undermines the credibility of media“.
On World Press Freedom Day, the Independent Association of Journalist of Serbia (NUNS) and “Independence” (Nezavisnost) trade union called on the holders of state offices and competent authorities to provide the journalists and other media professionals with proper working conditions, free of pressure and censorship. They also demanded from media owners and publishers to improve working and living standards of the journalists.
The Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) marked the World Press Freedom Day with a protest action in Niš, under the motto „Five Minutes of Thunderous Silence“. In a public statement, UNS noted that journalism in Serbia finds itself in the biggest crisis since the year 2000, that journalists were economically and socially humiliated and that media freedoms were at the lowest levels after „October 5“ changes.
Journalists gathered in Niš reemphasized the fact that all circumstances surrounding the death of journalist Dada Vujasinović remain unknown to this day, 18 years later, that persons who murdered Slavko Ćuruvija and Milan Pantić have not been brought to justice, and added that prossecution authorities showed little interest in the cases of journalists from Serbian media who were killed, kidnapped or went missing during the wars in former Yugoslavia.
On World Press Freedom Day, the Civic Alliance of Montenegro came forward with a statement in which it notes that, in spite of certain progress, situation with media freedoms in the country was still a cause of concern.
“The lack of efficient investigation and valid court sentences for those responsible for beatings and murder of journalists, the inexistence of a functional regulatory body, the all-present self-censorship, this last Komnenić case, are cause off great concern. We could say that, after the last rather crude comments issued by the president of the (ruling party) DPS, the situation is only getting worse“, the Civic Alliance says.
The Director fo the Human Rights Action Tea Gorjanc-Prelević said, in a statement to Vijesti Online portal, that „the media that excell in criticism of the Government and investigative journalism“ are publicly labeled as „media mafia“.
„Such accusations usually come from the state-owned media and the ruling DPS party. That trend raises concers that investigative journalism will remain without proper defense and protection in the future“, Gorjanc-Prelević said and added that the Government showed little understanding for the proposal to introduce new set of offenses that would increase the protection of journalists.
In Macedonia, the country that recorded the largest drop of full 19 places in the ranking in Freedom of the Press 2012 report, the Association of Journalists (AJM) said in a statement on May 3 that the situation in Macedonian media was allarming and the the Government presented a false picture of the situation in the country to European experts and institutions.
AJM noted that the negotiations with the Government on the reforms in the media sector and drafting of a new Media Law, announced after last year's visit of the International Partnership Group of freedom of expression organisations, were stalled and didn't offer any concrete solutions.
Also on the World Press Freedom Day, the leading opposition party SDSM demanded from the Parliament of Macedonia to prepare and adopt a National Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression Strategy, which would then serve as basis for all legislative solutions.
„At the very least, the strategy should contain provisions on decriminalisation of defamation, independece of the public broadcasting service, fair distribution of Budget funds to all media and it should restore the independence of the Broadcasting Council“, SDSM MP Emilijan Stanković said in the Parliament.
The journalists in Kosovo marked the World Press Freedom Day with a boycott of all institutions, to show their dissatisfaction with the newly adopted Criminal Code of Kosovo. The journalists say that the Code, especially Articles 37 and 38, which make members of editorial staff solely responsible for everything that has been published or aired by their media outlet and impose new obligations referring disclosure of sources used by the journalists, respectively, undermines and endangers their work and especially the work on investigative journalism projects which often depend on undisclosed sources and whistle-blowers.
In Albania, the Department of Communication Sciences of BEDER University, organized a workshop on “Media Challenges in Albania”, in cooperation with the Department of Journalism at the University of Tirana, the Union of Journalists and the Institute of Media. The main points that were discussed were the issues of ethics in media, the difficult conditions of journalists, as well as prospects of technological developments.
Participants noted that the financial aspects, including journalists’ salaries, and the ruthless competition in the market were key elements related to ethical issues in the Albanian media. The ongoing efforts to adapt the ethical code applied by major international media proved unsuccessful so far.
The President of the Union of Journalists Alexander Çipa noted the concerns over the lack of professional organization of journalists in unions and associations which would enable them to fight to protect their basic rights. The workshop also noted the challenges that technological transformation brings to the media, including the growing role of online media and social networks, which, it was noted, “must be accompanied with a similar revolution of the way of thinking and abandoning the old methods.
The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right tofreedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (read more on Wikipedia).