Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić made efforts to silence critics who claim his government is running roughshod over press freedom in Serbia – but any opportunity for invited media to ask questions was ignored at the event in London.
But repeated pleas and increasingly frantic waving hands from representatives of the invited Serbian and international media were brushed aside.
The moderator denied that this was deliberate, claiming it was due to there being so many questions from LSE students at what had been billed as an open-to-all event.
Three new laws to reform Serbia’s media market
During the event to discuss Serbia’s commitment to membership of the European Union, the Prime Minister confronted the high-octane issue of media ownership and press freedom in his country.
“We have passed three new media laws aimed at liberalising the media market and ensuring greater media freedom,’ he said, adding that even the EU had recognised the positive steps being taken by the Vučić government to reform relevant laws.
Some parties still claim that the government exerts pressure and even controls parts of the media in Serbia, which Mr Vučić clearly disputes. “Unfortunately, while we are committed to improving our media landscape, we find ourselves being scapegoated for what are ultimately commercial decisions,’ he said. “But I am not running away from this.”
Greek responsible for Impression of the Week
“One recent example is a TV show, Impression of the Week (Utisak nedelje), that was broadcast on a private TV station. The owner is not a Serbian guy; he is a Greek, coming from the EU.
“Due to some financial reasons, they did not reach an agreement with the journalists and the show was cancelled. That did not stop them launching a campaign against the government claiming that we ordered the owner, an EU citizen, to cancel the show. This is just one example.”
While Mr Vučić is keen to show that he is putting the house in order, many Serbian journalists and international media bodies still claim that, with pressure on journalists, the cancellation of TV shows, and questionable media ownership practices, it is hard to find any semblance of a free press.
Worst media situation since Milosevic days of censorship
Some have claimed that the current media situation is the worst since Mr Vučić held the role of Minster of Information to President Slobodan Milošević.
“I know that my past has made it easier for some people to blame me for censorship, but that is simply not true,’ he said. “The truth is, there is no proof. Where is the proof?”
Aleksandar Vučić first entered the Serbian Parliament for the Serbian Radical Party in 1993, and in 1998 he was appointed Serbian Minister of Information during the Federal Yugoslav presidency of Slobodan Milosevic. In 2008 he resigned from the Serbian Radical Party and joined the newly formed Serbian Progressive Party as Vice President.
In May 2012 he became leader of the party. Shortly afterwards he entered parliament as part of a coalition, becoming First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. Following elections in April 2014, he became Prime Minister of Serbia.