September 7, 2022
Five pro-government portals, on average, published an article per day to discredit, insult or target all those who critically write about the government, but primarily Nova, N1 and Danas journalists.
Written by: Danica Djokic, source: Slavko Curuvija Foundation
From April to July 2022, the Slavko Curuvija Foundation (SCF) monitored the reporting on critical journalists and the media from five portals – Alo.rs, Republika.rs (the portal of newspapers Srpski telegraf), Informer.rs, Kurir.rs and Objektiv.rs. The portals were selected based on the latest report of the Press Council indicating that the newspapers Alo, Srpski telegraf, Informer, Kurir and Objektiv violated Serbian Journalists’ Code the most in the period from 1 July until 31 December 2021.
Apart from often failing to respect ethical and professional norms, these tabloids implement campaigns against critical journalists, discrediting them, insult and devalue, along with almost daily attacks from politicians, creating an atmosphere for journalists who work professionally not to feel safe to work.
The website tags, such as: journalist, female journalist, and media outlet (in Serbian language, it was necessary to use case forms, gender and number forms) were used for the monitoring.
The monitoring showed that analysed portals often repeat identical insults when reporting on specific media outlets, so during the monitoring, the SCF started additionally observing whether new articles would appear under tags or keywords such as: tycoon media outlet, tycoon scums, Solak’s media outlets, Djilas’s media outlets, Solak’s machinery, Solak’s mechanism, tycoon outlets, opposition media and similar.
As the daily production of these online media outlets is really high, it is impossible to say that all articles and features that exhibit the relationship of the analysed media towards critical journalists and media companies were used in the SCF monitoring – it is without a doubt that there had been more articles in which the journalists were even more discredited.
The monitoring includes not only those articles in which the media outlets or journalists have been directly insulted but also those in which they are labelled as media outlets or journalists affiliated with a specific political party, political actor or businessman, and those who, because of their critical media nature and editorial policy are described as haters of “everything Serbian” and Serbia, haters of the President of the Republic of Serbia, who are spreading the anti-government propaganda, and other.
Therefore, all articles in which journalists or media were targeted in a negative fashion, mentioned or discredited were considered relevant for this monitoring. It was also recorded who were the most criticised journalists.
While the monitoring was undergoing, five topics were almost identically considered by two or three portals (Alo, Informer and/or Objektiv), but without reference to other sources, being exclusively reported as features from their own newsrooms. On these topics, 11 articles were published on either two or all three portals. In these articles, the media outlets concerned would change a headline or subheadings, some words here and there, but it was obvious those were articles from the same source.
Moreover, another eight topics were covered by two or three mentioned portals in a similar manner – in total 18 articles were published on these topics. All these articles – in total 29 – were considered autonomous in this monitoring as they did not refer to any source.
The analysed portals did not mention specific names of the media outlets they had attacked in any of the articles but included cover page photos or videos of portal screens. From the photos, it was obvious which media outlets those were, so these attacks were assigned to them.
NOTE: In this monitoring, the word “attack” shall mean any form of pressure, targeting, humiliation and negative speech about a critical media outlet or a journalist
More than 30 attacks per month on critical media and journalists
The Slavko Curuvija Foundation monitoring indicated that in the course of four months on the portals of tabloids Alo, Srpski telegraf, Informer, Objektiv and Kurir, at least 132 articles were published attacking critical media or journalists.
As in some articles, several journalists are often attacked, 132 articles included minimum of 197 negative mentions of critical media or journalists. The attacked media usually included portals, newspapers and TV Nova (minimum 66 times), TV N1 (minimum 47) and newspapers Danas (minimum 41 times).
The United Group media outlets are most often criticised in the analysed articles due to their editorial policy and also their selection of guests, interlocutors and column writers, the behaviour of their journalists, and even – the journalists’ tweets.
In minimum of nine articles, the analysed media outlets referred to the United Group, in general, without mentioning a specific media outlet, but with a particular negative focus on the owner Dragan Solak. All the articles are written with the purpose of creating a completely negative image of the United Group media outlets.
By using a similar rhetoric as the representatives of the government, the analysed media use the rhetoric that connects the owner of United Group with Dragan Djilas, the leader of the opposition Freedom and Justice Party, which creates an image in the public that the newsrooms and critical media journalists are linked with some political parties and that they work in their interest.
Media outlet Alo
During these four months, the most fervent was Alo tabloid portal, with as much as 70 negative mentions of the media outlets or journalists in 47 analysed articles.
The media outlets of the United Media group were named: tycoon scumbag, tycoon mercenaries, tycoon lackeys, tycoon media empire, and even – tycoon “butt-flies”.
Alo labelled them Djilas media outlets, and their journalists – Solakovci (Solak’s soldiers).
For them, the United Group is – a media octopus or Solak’s centrifuge.
Other analysed portals are also prone to similar or the same kind of insults against the media outlets of the United Group.
For Alo, the critical media outlets “achieved golden standards of Goebbels propaganda machinery”, “only working on fulfilling their political bosses agenda” and – harming Serbia.
By the words of the same portal, the critical media outlets are “drowning in auto-chauvinism”, meddling, manipulating, brutally lying, deceiving and not hesitating to use any means to harm Serbia but also – Vucic.
In addition, Alo also claimed that judging from the media outlets criticising the government, “everyone is innocent until proven to be a Serb”, and that hard and bleak times are desired for Serbia, and that they are even – “collaborating with Ustashas”.
Alo said that the only goal these media outlets have is to hit Vucic where it hurts most, breaking Serbia’s spine, smearing viscously and leading the chase against Vucic’s family.
The critical journalists are “Serb haters blind from hate”, who “do not feel any shame”.
All things mentioned in reference to Alo repeat in other media outlets’ analyses.
They also label critical journalists as: Djilas-type haters, rotten Djilas liars, domestic hypocrites, Djilas mercenaries, vultures, second-grade Serbs, Serb haters and spin masters.
Because of the Eurovision song contest in May, all critical media outlets were often named – “lievision”.
According to these portals, critical journalists and media do not love their country and its president, work against it, lie, and twist facts for their benefit, being hypocrites, and change attitudes depending on what they prefer at the moment.
The analysed portals agree that the critical media outlets are far from being objective, that they are hypocrites with double standards, supporting “Ustashas”, that “Serbs are to be blamed for everything”, that they “buried the professionalism”, and that “their only preoccupation was to spit on everything good that president Vucic did for the citizens”.
Although the analysed media most often write about media companies in general, in some articles, they targeted specific journalists. Those were most usually Jelena Obucina, Slobodan Georgiev, Zeljko Bodrozic, Marko Vidojkovic and Dragoljub Draza Petrovic.
In several articles, they attacked the Press Council (PC) and the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (IJAS).
Several times, the PC was attacked due to failure to adopt a decision on Marko Vidojkovic column, and Istvan Kaic, in one article of the portal Republika, named IJAS “media umbrella for protection of the United Group media”.
In the portal Republika, they emphasised that the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia is “independent but only from truth and objective reporting, while it is very much depended on spinning, misinformation and semi-information and foreign donations”.
Analysts, columnists and – Lie Detector
The analysed media outlets not only label journalists or media but also try to discredit them by calling out their guests and interlocutors.
In their articles, they sometimes call out journalists or media, other times analysts or interlocutors. Occasionally, there were columns with topics on critical journalists and media and their work, as a rule – in a negative context.
They sometimes published statements of interlocutors from other media outlets, with pronounced negative attitudes against some critical media or a journalist.
Occasional labelling of critical media or journalists was detected in columns “No gloves” on Kurir portal, signed by an unknown person, and columns of Dragan J. Vucicevic and Istvan Kaic on the Informer portal.
Among analysts who write about critical media, the persons who appear often are the executive director of the Centre for Responsible Media Marko Matic and Mario Spasic, who is presented as the general secretary of the Council for monitoring, human rights and anti-corruption in “Transparentnost”. Istvan Kaic himself is also an interlocutor.
The critical media were commented on by the members of the Serbian Progressive Party, Sandra Bozic, Suzana Vasiljevic, Milenko Jovanov, Aleksandra Tomic…
The analysts from the analysed articles include Predrag Sarapa, Milomir Maric, Nebojsa Krstic, Ilija Zivotic, Stevica Dedjanski… Their attitudes against critical media were all negative.
In almost a quarter of the analysed articles (23.5%), the grounds for articles were tweets from the account Lie Detector (@LaziDetektor). This account publishes TV show clips or parts of interviews with actors and analysts from the social and political scene in Serbia on a daily basis.
Its Twitter profile description says: “We occasionally only check the information published in the media and on social media. We remind you of what was said and promised”.
The articles referring to tweets from this account were published by all analysed portals besides Kurir. Almost a third (31.9%) of the analysed articles on the Alo portal had based their attacks on the tweets from this account.
Some media were referring to tweets by the SNS officials Goran Vesic and Vladimir Djukanovic. This monitoring did not include articles on how political officials attack journalists and/or media. It only concerned those articles in which, apart from politicians, the attacks come from the analysed media outlet itself or an interlocutor who is not a political official.
The Slavko Curuvija Foundation maintained the separate monitoring of the attacks by the politicians.
Tabloids are obviously using the same source
During monitoring, it happened more than once that the same or similar article was detected in more than one analysed portal, but each of them would mention themselves as the source. They often repeat the same headlines or parts of headlines, and the greatest parts of articles are the same or very similar. The only difference is that, e.g. Informer occasionally concludes – “We see what is going on” – or Alo bolds some text box.
Some phrases are replicated – e.g. some media are, as they write, “staunchly defending” Zorana Mihajlovic and “want to keep Ustashas sweet at all costs”.
Since about 22 per cent of the analysed articles are similar or the same, it is understandable to have doubts that these media outlets receive written articles from some source and only adjust them to their editorial policy and then publish them.
In these four months, apart from the commonly attacked United Group media, other media were also discredited and insulted, such as Cenzolovka, NIN, Nedeljnik, Vreme, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America… These media outlets were treated by the analysed portals in a similar fashion as N1, Nova and Danas.
During the monitoring, it was detected that only twice the critical journalists were mentioned in the analysed media in the non-insulting context.
When Jelena Zoric said that, on the basis of her research, “Andrej Vucic has nothing to do with Jovanjica”, the analysed media reported on that without criticising this journalist, however, mentioned numerous critical liars whose statements were refuted by Zoric’s claims after her statement.
In its article, which Cenzolovka mentioned as hypocritical, Kurir used the comment by Zoran Kesic from the Nova.rs portal that “he sometimes feels ashamed”, because “they are the same company”.
At the same time, portal Republika described Kesic as “Solak’s poodle”.
We want to reiterate that based on the Slavko Curuvija Foundation data, publishers of Alo, Kurir, Informer and Republika (Srpski telegraf) were allocated more than 95 million RSD from the budget after media competitions from 2017–2019. The publisher of Objektiv, which launched its company in 2021, received 150,000 RSD at one competition that year, as mentioned in Raskrinkavanje.