Commemoration of the murdered pupils of Vladislav Ribnikar Primary School (phoot: Danica Djokic, Cenzolovka)

Media forget ethics during reporting on two mass murders

May 15, 2023

The media response to the first ever mass school shooting in Serbia, in which a 13-year-old pupil of Belgrade’s Vladislav Ribnikar Primary School shot and killed eight of his fellow pupils and a security guard (a tenth victim later died from injuries sustained) and wounded seven, as well as the murder of eight people and the wounding of 14 the following day in the Belgrade municipality of Mladenovac, showed that, in their reporting, the majority of Serbian press/media outlets prioritised the competition for readers and viewers over respect for ethical and professional standards.

Their reports included speculation over the number of victims, the revealing of the full identity of a minor – the school pupil suspected of multiple murders, the presenting of unsubstantiated information and misinformation, conspiracy theories, the unreserved publishing of alleged statements of suspects; minors were interviewed, astrologers were consulted (!), one television channel broadcast a film about a mass school shooting, while another channel showed a video, during a guest appearance by the state president, promoting murder as revenge against threats, which was purportedly watched by the schoolchild suspected of committing multiple murders… Personal data and sensitive information were even presented publicly by politicians and police officials.

Following the two tragedies in early May that shocked and distressed Serbian citizens, protests – organised under the slogan “Serbia against violence” – were held in Belgrade and other cities. The protestors are demanding that the Government of Serbia and other institutions bring an end to the culture of violence that has long been promoted in the media. Their list of demands also includes: the replacing of the Council of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM), which has long been criticised for failing to respond to reports of violence on television; the closure of print media outlets responsible for publishing fake news and violating the Journalists’ Code of Ethics; the cancelling of the national broadcast frequencies of TV Pink and TV Happy, as well as the terminating of reality shows on national television that serve to promote violence, immorality and aggression.

The Government of Serbia responded to the school shooting by immediately adopting certain measures, including a call for citizens to surrender their personal weapons, whether owned legally or illegally, but also a measure that relates to the electronic media – with the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications ordered to review, with a one-month deadline, the possibility of imposing harsher penalties against media service providers that fail to comply with their prescribed obligations.