Serbia's and Croatia's improved freedom for journalists may contain positive lessons for neighbouring countries.
By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 05/03/13
Serbian journalists have increasingly used investigative journalism to cover high-level corruption and questionable privatisation. [Nikoala Barbutov/SETimes]
The international organisation Reporters Without Borders noted significant media freedom improvements in Serbia and Croatia, prompting reflections by professional journalism associations of how conditions for press freedom in the region have improved.
In its 2013 World Press Freedom Index, the organisaton ranked 179 countries based on media and overall pluralism, media independence, working conditions and self-censorship, transparency, legal framework and information infrastructure.
Serbia improved its position by 17 slots, ranking 63rd.
According to Ljiljana Smajlovic, president of the Journalist Association of Serbia, the boost in media freedom came with the new government's recognition and renewal of Serbia's commitment to EU media standards.
"Today, some of the most popular media are opposition-minded, which was not the case earlier. Government criticism is constant and severe in both mainstream and alternative media," Smajlovic told SETimes.
Greater media diversity and public insight into politicians' and tycoons' ownership and control of many media are also contributing factors.
"A year ago, citizens did not have a good insight into various political positions ... because of the prevailing media control by the then ruling party and its tycoon friends. Alternative media content was pushed to the margins," Smajlovic said. "Now, there is more investigative reporting, the media can talk freely about sensitive issues and has more freedom to investigate them."
Croatia should be ranked higher than the current 64th, four spaces higher than last year, according to Zdenko Duka, president of the Croatian Journalists Association. The new atmosphere created by society now allows journalists to carry out their work without fear, Duka said. "For at least three years we have not had any attacks on journalists," Duka told SETimes.
Kosovo marked a symbolic improvement of one place from last year, and ranked 85th.
"The improvement occurred because other countries, better positioned in the previous year, regressed in 2012," Arben Ahmeti, head of the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo, told SETimes.
In 2012, the association fought against a law that proposed to jail journalists that do not reveal their sources.
"After our campaign, the legal basis improved, though Kosovo still remains a difficult place for journalists, where threats and attacks against them are common," he said.
As for other countries in the region, there are lessons to be learned, according to Slagjana Dimiskova, president of the Macedonian Association of Journalists. "Journalists should adhere to the agreed-on professional standards and offer different viewpoints through analysis, investigations and by using more sources. This is something the journalists have capacity to do, and more or less the conditions," Dimiskova told SETimes.
Correspondents Kruno Kartus in Osijeks, Katica Djurovic in Belgrade and Safet Kabashaj in Pristina contributed to this report.