Serbia Tabloid Targets BIRN, Other Media, as ‘Mercenaries’

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The Serbian pro-government Informer newspaper on Monday accused several investigative media outlets, including BIRN, of working as foreign mercenaries for the CIA and others.

Serbia’s notorious pro-government tabloid, Informer, on Monday – under the front-page headline reading, “America and the EU paying liars and racketeers” – accused the investigative media organizations KRIK, CINS and BIRN, as well as the daily Kurir, of being financed by Western countries to destabilise the country.

It quoted an analyst called Dragomir Andjelkovic as saying that Serbia should follow Russia’s example and adopt a special law curbing NGOs in Serbia.

Russian law allows prosecutors to declare foreign and international organizations undesirable and shut them down.

Slobodan Georgijev, an editor with BIRN whose photograph was published on Informer’s front page, said the article marked “another step towards the criminalization of journalists.

“We’re talking about criminalization by the people who are in power. They are creating an atmosphere to label us as foreign mercenaries in order to force us to make excuses for doing our job,” he said.

Branko Cecen, head of CINS, said labelling journalists as spies was becoming a common way to frustrate their work in Serbia, but added CINS was going to continue with its work, despite the growing pressure.

“Russian law on NGOs has practically stopped the NGO sector in that country, so what Andjelkovic says might be a verbalization of the wishes of some in the Serbian executive,” Cecen told BIRN.

Since President Vladimir Putin took power in Moscow, 120 journalists have been killed in Russia, he noted.

Stevan Dojcinovic, head of KRIK, called the latest Informer article just “an update” on its prevous efforts in this field.

“We have two new donors this year, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Civil Rights Defenders, and it’s all public, we’re not hiding this. It just happens that they [Informer] call us once a month without reason,” Dojcinovic said.

“This has been going on for so long that you simply need to get used to it, although I am far from underestimating it,” he added, referring to the tabloid.

On November 4, Informer wrote that the Serbian Security Service, BIA, had received information from Russian colleagues that the Americans intended to push Serbia into crisis.

Informer claimed the CIA was either planning to assassinate Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and present this as a mafia war, or to kill the loudest critics of the government and blame the murders on the government.

The article caused fury on social media, with some voicing the fears that Informer might be preparing the ground for attacks on government critics and on the independent media.

Tamara Skrozza, a member of the Appeal Commission of Serbia’s Press Council and a journalist for the weekly magazine Vreme, said the latest Informer report added to the feeling of insecurity among many journalists.

“I’m worried about the possible results of this campaign. In my opinion, the security of the mentioned journalists is under serious threat, so if the Prime Minister supports the rule of law, he should be the one to react to this,” Skrozza told BIRN.

She said that tensions in Serbia had risen to unprecedented proportions, creating an even more dangerous environment for critical thinkers.

On October 25, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said the authorities in Podgorica would investigate the extent of Russian and Serbian involvement in a alleged coup attempt there.

Twenty people, including the former commander of the Serbian Gendarmerie Bratislav Dikic, were arrested in Montenegro on October 16 on suspicion of planning to overthrow Djukanovic.

On October 24, Prime Minister Vucic said the Serbian authorities had arrested several people who were allegedly following Djukanovic and planning illegal acts in Montenegro. However, he also insisted they had no connection to the Serbian state, but had connections to a unnamed third country.

The Serbian Prime Minister also claimed the number of members of “powerful foreign intelligence agencies”, from both East and West, was increasing in Serbia. He added that a senior police officer had also been arrested for “disclosing confidential information” to a foreign intelligence service.

Amid the turmoil cased by the Montenegrin claims, stashes of arms were found near Vucic’s home in Jajince.

Concerns were raised that the weapons were intended for use against Vucic or his brother, especially after Interior Minster Nebojsa Stefanovic on Tuesday said the Prime Minister had expressed fears for his brother’s safety.

Informer has a history of accusing independent journalistic organisations of working against Serbia – as do some politicans.

Last week, BIRN’s Georgijev was labelled a state enemy who “wanted to see something happened to the Prime Minister in terms of an assassination” by the Minister of Social Affairs Aleksandar Vulin during a debate on state television, RTS.