Serbian Newspaper Slammed for Naming Graft Suspects

Belgrade newspaper Blic was criticized for violating the presumption of innocence by publishing the names and photographs of people arrested during a huge anti-corruption swoop.

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A Blic front-page story listing the names of 15 former state officials and businessmen arrested in the police anti-corruption operation on Friday “violates the presumption of innocence and the protection of individual rights”, Vukasin Obradovic, the president of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, NUNS, told BIRN. “With this front page, Blic created a negative precedent on Serbia’s media scene. I can’t remember something like that being done during the worst time of political propaganda, including during the regime of Slobodan Milosevic,” Obradovic said.

“They were all free citizens who have all the rights guaranteed by law and the constitution,” Obradovic added, accusing Blic of breaching ethical, professional and legal rules. The front-page story was published after 80 people were arrested in the huge anti-corruption operation. Among them were a former agriculture minister, Slobodan Milosavljevic, two assistant ministers, directors of public companies and businessmen. They are suspected of involvement in corruption, money laundering, abuse of public office and other criminal acts. The authorities alleged that their wrongdoings cost the state more than 100 million euros.

Milosavljevic has denied the allegations against him. Belgrade’s Higher Court on Monday ordered Milosavljevic and five other people to be held in custody for 30 days on suspicion of committing fraud connected to agricultural land in the northern city of Novi Sad.

In a follow-up story on the arrests on Monday, Blic published more accusations about another two of the suspects, Zorana Markovic, who was head of Serbia’s Anti-Corruption Agency from 2009 until 2012, and Mila Jezdimirovic, an employee of state-owned insurance company Dunav Osiguranje. Pro-government tabloid Informer, also called the people who were arrested “state mafia”.

Obradovic said the country’s tabloids were competing for readers by seeking to depict suspects as already convicted. “That is a consequence of the totally illegal atmosphere in society where people are being convicted before trial. Blic has only emulated the authorities’ relationship towards the rights of those suspected of breaking the law,” Obradovic said.  BIRN contacted Blic for a comment, but didn’t receive any response by the time of publication.

Balkan Insight
29 December 2015