International media and democracy watchdog Freedom House has said that the Serbian government is contributing to an environment of intimidation for the country’s journalists, adding that press freedom in the country is now in a decline, just as in Hungary.
According to the international NGO’s latest Freedom and the Media report, Serbian president Aleksander Vučić and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán have both “had great success in snuffing out critical journalism” to support their own populist forces. “Both leaders have consolidated media ownership in the hands of their cronies, ensuring that the outlets with the widest reach support the government and smear its perceived opponents. In Hungary, where the process has advanced much further, nearly 80 percent of the media are owned by government allies,” Freedom House senior research director Sarah Repucci said.
Zselyke Csáky, Freedom House’s research director for Europe and Eurasia noted that authoritarian leaders such as President Vučić and Prime Minister Orbán had developed a new mechanism to seize control over the media “that includes economic, legal, and extralegal means to silence critical journalists and bolster friendly news outlets.”
Unlike censorship in hardline dictatorships, Ms Csáky argues that such a toolbox includes the enforcement of new laws, verbal threats, abusing licensing practices and government-backed ownership takeovers – among others.
“A recent privatisation drive handed several outlets to owners friendly with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS),” Ms Csáky said, adding that the financial harassment of Serbian media outlets by the country’s tax authorities is an even more worrying sign.