Balkan journalists face threats and intimidation, says report

Human Rights Watch urges EU to intervene in countries seeking membership


Journalists in several Balkan countries work in hostile environments that affect their ability to carry out their work, says a report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report, A difficult profession: media freedom under attack, documents attacks and threats against journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.

It is based on interviews with 86 journalists, most of whom report on sensitive issues such as war crimes and corruption, in the Balkan countries.

Among the cases it details is that of Štefica Galić, editor-in-chief of an online news site in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who was assaulted in 2012 as she prepared to screen a documentary about her late husband.

The couple had saved Bosnian Muslims from being deported to concentration camps during the war. Days before the attack, Galić had reported death threats but the police had told her not to take them seriously.

After international organisations intervened, her case was investigated and a local government workers was convicted in October 2013. She received a three-month suspended sentence. And Galić continues to receive frequent threats.

In a short viedo made to accompany the release of the report, journalists tell of similar experiences. They include Jeta Xharra, of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Kosovo, who says: “It’s a minefield… you have to watch your back”.

Another Kosovan investigative journalist, Artan Haraqia, reveals the threats to him and his family over his reporting. In Macedonia, Tomislav Kezarovski explains why he went to jail for investigating the death of another journalist and in Montenegro, Milka Tadić Mijović , executive director Weekly Monitor, relates how journalists are smeared by the authorities.

High ranking officials regularly sue journalists and media outlets for defamation in civil courts. Reporters reporting on sensitive issues have been subject to smear campaigns.

A pro-government daily newspaper accused one journalist in Kosovo of being a Serbian spy and said she had “shortened her life” by reporting on whether local governments had carried out their campaign promises.

Women journalists have been the target of offensive stories using sexually explicit language. A pro-government newspaper in Montenegro referred to one female journalist as “a prostitute”.

HRW detailed cases where current affairs TV talk-shows in Serbia went off the air due to political pressure. In Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, political interference also includes arbitrary financial and administrative inspections of media outlets.

None of the countries have adequately investigated the attacks on journalists and the threrats they face.

“The western Balkan countries have been touting their move toward democracy for two decades, but intimidation and attacks on journalists puts a damper on democracy,” said Lydia Gall of HRW who compiled the report.

She said: “The EU should push the countries to call a halt to intimidation and prosecute crimes against journalists as part of the EU membership negotiation process.

“If the EU is serious about its own membership criteria it should make respect for media freedom a priority in its negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia,” Gall said.

The Guardian

15 July 2015