Freedom House: The SPP Erodes Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Media Freedom

The report of the influential American organization Freedom House for 2019 summarizes the situation in the region: “Anti-democratic leaders in Central Europe and the Balkans – including some who unceremoniously concentrated power in their hands beyond constitutional limits –  continued to undermine institutions defending freedom of expression, association and the rule of law”.

With regard to the deterioration of democracy and political freedoms in Serbia, the following is stated: “In recent years, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) has been continuously eroding political rights and civil liberties, putting pressure on the independent media, political opposition and civil society organizations. Despite these trends, the country is still moving towards EU membership”.

Serbia is ranked among the other Western Balkan countries in the group of 59 partially free countries in the world “due to deteriorating election processes, ongoing attempts by the government and pro-government media to undermine independent journalism through harassment of journalists and campaigns for denigration, as well as the actual accumulation of executive powers in the hands of president Aleksandar Vucic, which conflicts with his constitutional role”.

Freedom House’s latest report “Nation in Transit” also underlines that one of the biggest problems in Serbia is the decline in media freedom, with most of the country’s print and electronic media being under control of the ruling SPP party.

With regard to the overall quality of democracy and the conditions under which elections are held, the main problem facing Serbia again is the deterioration of media freedoms, which has led to an additional fall of 6 more positions in Freedom House’s ranking compared to 2018.

“In the worst case, media such as TV Pink and the tabloid Informer serve as propaganda units of the SPP, used to praise the ruling party and its leader, while demonizing critics and opponents. In the less extreme case, media such as public television RTS or the printed edition “Politika”, offer more subtle pro-government propaganda combined with extremely limited space to cover the activity of the opposition”, the report said.

Freedom House adds: “Although there are critical voices, such as N1 cable or the “Danas” daily, their coverage is limited. Broad-range media rarely offer material with a more balanced political coverage”.

The report states that “in 2019, attacks and threats against journalists criticizing the government continued” and that “attacks on journalists usually remain unsanctioned”, citing examples of threats against N1 journalists and investigative journalist Slobodan Georgiev from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

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