Serbian journalists and editors accused President Aleksandar Vucic of hypocrisy after he addressed a panel on freedom of the media in Davos on Tuesday, claiming that he has caused the deterioration of media freedom in his own country.
“I see his speech as epic cynicism, as he gave the impression of a man who discovered at this event that there is something wrong with media freedom in Serbia, although the truth is different and everything that isn’t right has been induced by him [Vucic],” TV N1’s programme director Jugoslav Cosic told BIRN.
“The truth is that over the past few days, the Serbian president and one of [his] ministers, for EU integration, Jadranka Joksimovic, demonstrated verbal aggression against N1 journalists when they were asked questions about the visit by Russian President Putin [at the weekend] and about media freedoms,” Cosic added.
Vucic participated in the Media Freedom in Crisis panel at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday alongside respected journalists, editors and rights activists from organisations like the Washington Post, Reuters and Amnesty International.
He told the Davos panel that he was proud of Serbia’s economic reforms but not of its media freedom situation.
“Yesterday, I talked to people from [international watchdog group] Reporters Without Borders and I invited them to come to Serbia and support us, to bring experts, especially in the area of state aid to the media… and I am sure that in a year or two, I will be here and I will be proud of the freedom of the media and freedom of speech in Serbia,” Vucic said.
— Александар Вучић (@predsednikrs) January 22, 2019
Representatives of Reporters Without Borders met Vucic in Belgrade on Monday to highlight concerns about media freedom in Serbia.
“Reporters Without Borders came to Belgrade to meet the president and raise certain questions about the atmosphere which we believe is deteriorating,” the head of the EU and Balkans desk at the organisation, Pauline Ades-Mevel, told N1, adding that Serbia fell 10 places on its World Press Freedom Index global ranking for 2018.
Vucic’s participation in the media panel in Davos was also criticised by Serbian media associations on Tuesday.
“Aleksandar Vucic has no moral right to share advice or recommendations about the media,” said a joint press release issued by the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, IJAS, and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, IJAV.
Milan Culibrk, the editor-in-chief of weekly news magazine NIN, told BIRN that under Vucic’s rule, Serbian media have been living through “crisis times”.
Culibrk said that “we will see at the first press conference in Serbia [aftrer Vucic returns] that he really was not honest” about improving media freedom.
TV N1’s Cosic also noted that the Davos panel was one of the rare press events involving the Serbian President which he did not control “nor were ordered [pre-agreed] questions asked”.
Cosic said that Vucic tried to use the opportunity to speak about his economic reforms, “although he was not asked about them, and was immediately interrupted by the coordinator of the panel”.
According to the 2018 EU Progress Report for Serbia, the country needs to improve the environment for freedom of expression and media freedom.