Media watchdog concerned about Serbia

Posted on 04 Mar 2009 at 11:14am
By Associated Press

Organization says cases indicate police pressuring journalists, limiting free speech

BELGRADE, Serbia — A southeast European media watchdog said Tuesday, March 3 it was concerned about alleged pressure on Serbia’s media outlets, investigative journalists and free speech activists.

The South East Europe Media Organization, or SEEMO, condemned recent police questioning of a newspaper editor, banning of a gay rights group’s news conference and threats against a journalists in northern Serbia.

The group said it was "alarmed over these cases, all of which involve exerting direct pressure on journalists or limiting freedom of expression."

There was no immediate reaction from Serbian authorities.

The Balkan country has sought to boost freedom of speech since the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 but critics say that much more needs to be done.

SEEMO said in its statement a police interrogation last month of the editor-in-chief of the Borba daily was a "violation of editorial independence."

The editor, Olivera Zekic, was summoned by police after Borba reported that the government had offered to pay $900,000 to settle a case of a Serb student who is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly beating an American classmate.

The report triggered outrage in Serbia while the government launched an investigation to determine who leaked the classified information.

"It is vital for journalists and media executives to be able to report freely on current affairs and to carry out their work in safety," SEEMO Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic said.

The group added that this and other attempts to restrict freedom of expression "are unacceptable in a democratic society."

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