June 19, 2019 / 8:44 PM / a month ago

Media freedom in the Balkans under attack, monitors say

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - More than a third of all media freedom violations reported across Europe in 2018-2019 occurred in southeastern Europe, with governments being behind a half of them, media freedom monitors said on Wednesday.

Journalists from Albania, Turkey, Bosnia, Macedonia and Serbia told a two-day conference about the pressures on their work, all of them complaining about the hostile environment for the media created by their respective states.

“Media freedom is declining all over Europe ... but the situation is worse in this region than in any other place,” Ricardo Gutierrez, the general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, said.

“In nearly 50% of the cases we reported from this region the state is the source of threat, the source of the violation,” Gutierrez told the conference organized in Sarajevo by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He also said that a share of physical attacks against journalists was higher in the Balkans than elsewhere in Europe, accounting for a third of 79 violations reported in the region.

“Journalists in this region are facing various types of narratives from politicians, prime ministers, presidents, ministers and police officers, and this particular narrative is feeding violence against journalists,” Gutierrez said.

He put part of the blame on the judiciary in the various countries for not pursuing cases raised by journalists, many of whom are trying to report on allegations of corruption, quickly enough, or even at all.

Tariq Ahmad, Britain’s envoy for freedom of religion, who sits in the upper chamber, said that protection of journalists was a priority and that Britain had committed 10 million pounds ($12.6 million) to support independent media in the Western Balkans.

Stefica Galic, an editor of the Bosnian independent portal tacno.net, said she has been physically attacked several times but lost all legal cases she had filed against her attackers.

“Regardless of how much I fight, I am losing battles,” Galic told the conference. “I’ll continue to work, I am not scared of anyone.”

The Balkan countries mentioned by the journalists regularly say they work to protect the media by upholding the law.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alison Williams

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