Colleagues as Targets
Colleagues as Targets
In addition to the attacks journalists experience from fellow citizens, readers, politicians, public personalities and people whose affairs they investigate, they are also often targeted by their colleagues. The media community is ripe with internal conflicts, and the situation is more or less the same in all countries of the region.
Apart from the excessively common attacks of regime-controlled media on the opposition media and vice-versa, with the onset of media dealing with fact-checking of information distributed to the public and identifying fake news, people who accepted the task of cleaning the media space of disinformation and inaccurate claims have become the target of particular animosity.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Threats for fact-checking
Tijana Cvjetićanin from the Raskrinkavanje.ba web portal emphasises that colleagues from other media outlets mostly resent the very fact that they check the information published in the media at all. Their main argument is the methodology is unknown, although their methodology was published on their website as soon as they started working. After partnering with Facebook, they started having meetings with newsrooms in BiH and the region. She says that the meetings meant repeating the same things many times and answering the same questions over and over again, but they felt it was worth the time and energy because it would help the media get a better grasp of the process and its purpose.
“We hoped these conversations would also help them understand that our only motive is the public interest, not personal animosity or the intention to target anybody because we heard those accusations for years before partnering with Facebook. Unfortunately, as seen in the recent examples, it seems a lot of that time was wasted in vain,” she says.
Since its beginning, the work of Raskrinkavanje has been accompanied by insults, intimidation attempts and false information published by colleagues from certain media outlets, especially those connected to political parties. They recently published that the editor of the news portal Avaz.ba, Evelin Trako, threatened to blow them up on the telephone.
“For example, Avaz ran a mini-campaign against Raskrinkavanje, both the organisation and the management, when they published texts full of insults and disinformation for almost seven straight days. Unfortunately, they were supported by many representatives of other media newsrooms and associations. We heard incomprehensible claims that we ‘overstepped our authority’ – as if we were a government institution; or that we strive to ‘become the regulatory body and take over the role of RAK’, which is complete nonsense. It is difficult to believe that these claims came from so-called media experts,” claims Cvjetićanin.
A common stance in the media community of BiH was that Raskrinkavanje should only deal with anonymous portals, and Cvjetićanin points out that it is “concerning and devastating that people with decades-spanning careers in the media or media associations may publicly say such things.” After Trako’s threats, Hayat TV broadcasted a story on Raskrinkavanje. They mostly spoke with editors of online media outlets from BiH, who stated that they felt targeted by Raskrinkavanje and that their ratings from the platform in cooperation with Facebook hurt them financially. Cvjetićanin explained that no media outlet is specifically targeted, they work on analysing disinformation published in all media in BiH.
They never reported anonymous threats on social networks until now, but the police were informed of threats made by the Avaz editor. The outcome is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the media showed no solidarity in this case and failed to condemn the actions of Evelin Trako.
“It is sad and disconcerting that so many media professionals equate freedom of speech with the freedom to publish disinformation while regarding fact-checking as ‘censorship’ instead of informative media content. The absence of solidarity with fact-checkers is, accordingly, noticeably absent – not just here, but in neighbouring countries as well – when we are exposed to threats and persecution. I think this is one more indicator of the decline of professional and ethical standards of the media in the Balkans,” she adds.
Serbia: Links to criminals
After the web portal KRIK reported on Veljko Belivuk, the head of the criminal group ‘Principles’, Serbian media outlets Kurir, Informer, and Srpski Telegraf launched a campaign against the newsroom. They published fake news about the link between KRIK and Belivuk, naming him as one of the journalists’ sources.
“The Informer conjured up a statement by the KRIK editor Stevan Dojčinović confessing that Belivuk is our source and published it on the front page. The Kurir also published a false text claiming that Dojčinović confessed to cooperating with criminals,” Jelena Radivojević stated in her article on KRIK.
The campaign was condemned by media organisations and international organisations, even the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić. Journalists of the KRIK portal also run the portal RasKRIKavanje.rs. In the words of its editor Vesna Radojević, in the early days of their work, colleagues from other media outlets let them know that there is no need to lecture anyone. Lawsuits were mentioned, but there was no indication that media campaigns would be led against them.
“I suppose the situation surrounding the attack will change if and when we partner up with Facebook (in the same way Raskrinkavanje did in BiH), and start labelling the Facebook posts of those media outlets as fake news. Once their reach is held back, i.e., when you hit them financially, where it really hurts, there will be more reactions to such behaviour,” she warns.
She emphasises that, despite the poor overall situation in the media scene, the unprofessionalism and bad journalism, there are still some media outlets doing an excellent job and trying to maintain high journalistic standards. They are the ones who understand why it is important to talk about anomalies within this profession and share their analyses and articles.
“The situation is very difficult for any journalist in Serbia working professionally. As you are trying to expose to the public as many cases of corruption and links between organised crime and the government, you come to expect interference from all sides. Everyone must be prepared for that. What you can’t get used to is that almost all of the institutions that are supposed to stand up for you and help you as citizens choose to defend the people you write about. When you expect only the worst from your country, it puts you in a depressed state while coping with daily struggles. Still, if we didn’t believe what we are doing is important to the citizens of Serbia and that we are leaving a mark on the society at this time, we would have packed our suitcases a long time ago,” she adds.
Slovenia: Undesirable in other media
Raskrinkavanje.si, the Slovenian portal for fact-checking media information, has similar experiences. Editor Anuška Delić recalls a time when colleagues from other media were happy about the establishment of the platform. However, things changed very quickly.
“Once they realised that Raskrinkavanje.si is not going to focus solely on fake news portals, but also the disinformation published in mainstream media due to misreporting, their excitement quickly dissipated,” she says, adding that several Slovenian media outlets adopted the unwritten rule that journalists and editors of this platform aren’t to be mentioned or appear as guests in any of their contents. Furthermore, public attacks ensued.
“Apart from social networks, politicians and experts, the main sources of attacks, discrediting, slander and smear campaigns launched against our journalists are portals owned by business people close to Viktor Orban, indirectly governed by the ruling party, SDS. These media were also the main source of disinformation in the country,” Delić warns.
Because of this, the Slovenian Raskrinkavanje newsroom consulted a law firm several times. Nevertheless, as she emphasises, the Slovenian legal system does not have sufficient legal mechanisms in place to protect personal integrity and rights from public abuse. To win a court process, the attacks must be extremely slanderous, which is often not the case.
“Those who launch these attacks have enough experience to know how to stay within legal boundaries. I regularly report attacks on social networks, which is a Sisyphean task. When I was pregnant in the third trimester in 2016, an anonymous Twitter user published a series of physical threats against me. I looked into their profile and managed to approximately identify them in order to file criminal charges, along with all the data I collected. The police heard me out only after I gave birth. They mostly wanted to know whether I felt threatened or not. The case is stuck somewhere within our legal system. It clearly doesn’t work and is not effective in combating abuses and attacks on freedom of speech,” she states.
Albania: Lack of solidarity
Attacks on journalists are one of the issues at the focus of Ilda Londo’s study “For Media Free of Hate and Disinformation; Media Polarization and Media (Dis)Trust in Albania”. The report states that community solidarity is lacking in cases like this.
One of the journalists who participated in the focus groups said: “We have cases of portals attacking individual journalists without any arguments. It becomes embedded in public discourse and the public tends to believe these narratives. Finally, it is discouraging and has a cooling effect on our work, because we stop to think – when will it be our turn?”
Another journalist said that articles are being published with the specific intention to slander journalists, even when the editors are aware that the claims are not true.
“This is unacceptable and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. You are giving media space to unproven claims and working against your colleagues. If you will not defend your colleagues, how can you expect the public to trust us and defend us?”, he asked.
Kosovo: Persecuted because of a child filter
After publishing a photograph of Aleksandar Vučić with dog ears and snout on her Twitter profile in 2018, the Pristina journalist Una Hajdari was targeted by pro-government media from Serbia. She was called “the pet of Belgrade non-governmental organisations and the yellow scum elite,” accused of satanizing the President of Serbia and pure hatred for him.
In an interview for Jutarnji.hr, Una explained that there was no malicious intent in her action because the filter she used is used by children to decorate photographs. When the media persecution started, she started receiving threatening messages in which unknown people said she would beg for her life. Attacks were also directed at the Beta agency editor Dragan Janjić, who posted on Twitter that the murder of Oliver Ivanović was politically motivated.
“I am most offended by the fact that they never read any of my articles. As one of the few journalists in Pristina who speaks Serbian, I mostly write about Serbs in Kosovo and other journalists would often question my ‘constant pushing for the Serbs’. ‘You’re only doing it because you love Serbs!’”, Una Hajdari said for Jutarnji.hr.
She and Janjić received support from colleagues, 155 of them from the Western Balkans area signed an open letter of support, and the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia also responded. Media organisations from the region protested the case.
North Macedonia: Reaction of the institutions necessary
In November 2020. Lider portal from North Macedonia published photographs and names of Metamorphosis Foundation employees, directly targeting them and putting them in great danger. The article claimed that they were in charge of removing content from Facebook in North Macedonia, when in fact they are journalists fact-checking information published in the media and labelling them as fake news if merited.
“The publishing of these false claims is very damaging to the reputation of the Metamorphosis Foundation and its employees. At the same time, their safety is threatened by the calls for public lynching, the Foundation stated in their press release.
The text was soon taken over by other media in North Macedonia, and the readers’ comments contained direct threats saying that people would come to the journalists’ homes and that they had no idea they would soon be ‘taken out’. The readers also publicly asked whether it was better to kill the journalists right away and advised each other to hang them from the streetlights.
Media organisations from North Macedonia called upon the institutions to react accordingly and punish all those calling for lynching and spreading hate speech.
“All effort invested by the professional media and journalist community will be in vain if there is no response from institutions with the authority to sanction hate speech,” they warn.
Croatia: Exile from the country
Although there is animosity present within the media community in Croatia today, in his article on the Novosti portal, journalist Hrvoje Šimičević reminded the public of one of the most extreme examples of attacks on journalists from 1992, when the weekly magazine Globus published an anonymous article targeting five female journalists: Dubravka Ugrešić, Slavenka Drakulić, Vesna Kesić, Rada Iveković and Jelena Lovrić. The goal was to depict the journalists as “immoral freaks undermining the reputation of our new country and deliberately staying silent in regard to the crimes of Serbian rapists”. The headline was “Croatian Feminists Raping Croatia”.
“Life became unbearable to the intellectuals who were called out, in their workplaces, homes, media and publishing market and, ultimately, in the Republic of Croatia. Similar to the earlier case of Mira Furlan, preparations were made for months in advance on almost all media platforms operating in the country at the time,” reminded Šimičević in his article “Intellectuals Burned at the Stake”.
According to the article, the editor of the magazine, Denis Kuljiš, showed remorse following the pressure from the lawsuits of targeted journalists, whereas the author of the text Slaven Letica never did. “On the contrary, he believed the targeted women reaped intellectual and financial benefits from the popularity resulting from the article”, Šimičević wrote.
After the lynching lead by colleagues from the HRT against Roman Latković in 1996, he left Croatia and was granted political asylum in the United States. The lynching was motivated by one of his comments where he called Franjo Tuđman a brutal dictator. “The HRT central news show then issued a call for his public lynching. What ensued was unprecedented persecution, with armed men looking for Latković across Rijeka, death threats, he was monitored and followed, and the eruption of collective madness culminated in Latković seeking political asylum in the United States and being granted it,” states the text on Lupiga portal.