Press conferences, the ideal place to attack journalists
“There is not any more press conference for today, today we have public conference but these are mainly for a single person conference. They are conferences that are not supposed to exchange information, but are conferences that are to praise a person, a man, and a politics, “says Slaviša Lekić, president of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia.
Slaviša Lekić’s statement in a strictly defines the behavior of politicians towards journalists and media. The media freedom group, whose goal is to fight the “media darkness”. The first request of this group from the Government and the Assembly of Serbia is that the state officials to stop insulting and ignoring journalists and the media that asks difficult questions, as the public has the right to have information, and the work of the government representatives is to answer questions.
These situations in which officials offend and ignore journalists, avoid answers, and talk what suits them, have become as an ordinary thing.
Aleksandar Vucic, the president of Serbia in one occasion said he responds in the way he wants, not as a journalist expects, while Alexander Vulin, the Minister of Defense, said that he responds when he wants.
Snježana Milivojević, professor in the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade, considers that the reason for such behavior from people in power lies in the assumption that there is no talk, dialogue and that it is not the place to ask questions about responsibilities for the steps to be taken.
“We see this in a number of cases but above all in the contemn of civil society, in demolition of the controlling institutions and in relation to journalists. Journalists are the first in the list because a power that has invested heavily in adopting the technique of winning the elections is unimaginable to have someone to whom they should talk, “she said.
Representatives of journalists’ associations highlights that press conferences have turned into meetings for public opinion, the rules of journalism are clear everywhere – the journalist asks, and the representative in power answers.
“It is known which job is to whom, the job of politicians is to work for the good of the citizens and to be there to answer the questions of journalists, and the work of journalists is to insist on answering the questions they ask”, says Vladimir Radomirovic, President of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia.
Politicians in opposite and in power, as well as representatives of the ministry of this field most often time they interpret the persistence of journalists on the response as a non-culture behavior and provocation from them, so they try to “teach” the work to journalists.
“I think in these press conferences the journalists come unprepared. Sometime I am very busy and the questions that are asked there are not only unclear but what surprises me – we hear the answers that are perhaps a bit broader and then immediately they ask the question the answer of which it was already given, “says Aleksandar Gajović, secretary at the Ministry of Culture and information.
Therefore, the mayor Vučić assessed as a provocation from the journalist when he was interrupted him seven times by sub-questions, while Goran Vesić, the city manager in Belgrade, the persistence on his response from the journalist Maja Nikolić of the TV N1 he considered it as insulting and has recommended that she wants to have dispute with him then she must join his political party.
“Until now we have not heard, at least I do not recall, that you have to be part of that political party in case you want to ask a question to the city government official for whom you pay as a taxpayer. I reacted because I won’t let myself be labeled- and it’s not the first time we have been labeled as political opponents, “Maja Nikolic says.
Journalists, especially those which deals with investigative journalism, often are faced with silence of power authorities, so they should ask for officials help to get information of public importance in order to obtain the right information. But neither in this case you cannot get the full answer said Maja Živanović, BIRN’s journalist.
“Usually you will get an answer in a form of document where with black marker is darkened from the part of the document signer to the content of that document,” said Maja Živanović.
Rodiljub Šabic, responsible for information of public interest, has emphasized that some data is often not given to journalists with the justification that it is official secret.
” For God’s sake, how can the publication of any information on how any official has acquired property or income would seriously jeopardize Serbia’s interests?” asks Šabić.
Journalists, in contrast have “flooded” the press officer with requests that reach an average of over 300 per year. The answers reach 96 percent of cases, but last year the percentage of success has decreased for four percent and continues to decrease. Even the prolongation and weaker success of the procedure seems to be a message to journalists that even when they have the law on their side, they cannot easily reach the information.
“On one side you have the law which guarantees the public, the media, citizens the appropriate procedure and access to information from public interest. If state authorities who obliged the other authorities to respect the law, do not respect the law themselves, then the state is abusing its own law, “says Šabic.
For years, the European Union warns that the media in Serbia are not free, that the state does nothing to improve the situation and participates in the violation of the guaranteed freedoms. Reports of many reporters tell that Serbia has consistently fallen on the list of media freedom since 2014, so in 2016 it has fallen for seven countries lower, thus becoming in 66 place.