Project: Monitoring Serbia’s OSCE Chairmanship

International Conference on "Protecting the safety and integrity of journalists in the OSCE region": NGOs should be involved in the protection of freedom of the press and freedom of expression

International Conference on "Protecting the safety and integrity of journalists in the OSCE region" held from 26th to 27th March in Belgrade was the first theme conference during the  Serbia's presidency of the OSCE. The conference was organized by the Serbian Ministry of Culture and Information and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Office of the OSCE Office for media freedom.

Growth in the number of journalists killed worldwide in 2014 and early 2015, terrorist attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and attack in Copenhagen, the growth of violence against women reporters on the internet and  worrying state of journalistic freedom in some OSCE participating states were the topics of the Conference. Among the topic discussed were also: good practices in member countries, poor results in punishing the attackers on journalists and new challenges for the safety of journalists.

According to a report by Reporters Without Borders in 2015, so far 18 journalists were killed and 160 journalists, 13 members of the team of journalists and on line contributors 175 content were detained.

The following topics were discussed at the conference: security issues regarding journalists after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and the challenges of violent attacks on the media; safety of women journalists on the Internet; digital security and Internet literacy in media and among journalists; legal protection and integrity of journalists and impunity for violence against journalists. In the margins of the gathering, most sessions were dominated by mutual accusations of representatives of official bodies, NGOs and media representatives of Russia and Ukraine about the treatment and safety of journalists reporting from conflict areas, denial of protection of reporters in the field, and issues of war reporting from the field in the context of national security and misuse of the media for the purpose of war propaganda.

In addition to the safety of journalists in the traditional media, the growing interest of OSCE member states were shown with regard to protection of journalists, bloggers, citizen reporters, and NGO activists who use the Internet and social networks, to spread public information. A large number of delegations pointed out that attention should be equally focus on the online sphere and the fact that as content producers appear not only journalists but also citizens and representatives of NGOs.

Swiss Ambassador Daniel Ruch said that journalists must be free of fear in order to ensure freedom of the media. He said that NGOs should question the safety of media and protection of press freedom and freedom of expression. This point of view were presented by the representative of Latvia, who called the media and NGOs to engage in a discussion about the safety of journalists and a representative of the Czech delegation, who said that NGOs in the Czech Republic are an important partner in the protection of press freedom and freedom of speech. Also, according to some opinions citizens do not pay enough attention to the issue of freedom of the media, because they considered it as one of the guaranteed freedoms in a democratic society and that is why the attack on Charlie Hebdo, primarily produced much emotion.

Several representatives of the delegations to the Conference raised the issue of the safety of journalists in the wider security context. Among the above-mentioned dilemmas are, if some countries took the advantage of attacks on journalists in order to introduce a wider range of control of journalists and media and their sources and extended the scope of monitoring citizens and their personal correspondence, and whether the state should have a stronger role in the protection of the media and freedom of expression. Other topic discussed were: the relation between the freedom of the media relations, freedom of speech and national security and the role of the wider community in ensuring freedom of speech and expression.

During the first plenary session, several delegations asked Serbia as the chairman to set the example in ensuring the protection and freedom of the media in line with previous OSCE recommendations.

As regard of freedom of the media in Serbia, Minister of Culture and Information of Serbia Ivan Tasovac noted the importance of the establishment of the Serbian Commission for the detection of killings of journalists, who "has a lot done. " He also mentioned the media laws and withdrawal of the state from the ownership structure in the media, introduction of project finance in media and control of state aid. He also said that a large part of the responsibility lies with the journalists and that they should look in the mirror and do not get mad at the state if they see a picture that they do not like.

Snjezana Milivojevic, professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences, said the new neoliberal economy is especially visible in the media (withdrawal of the state from the media and privatization), and that in recent years the government created a climate that is not good for the freedom of the media and that despite the intention of the current government to show the media laws as a question of progress towards freedom of the media, the journalists are seeing the opposite.

In a separate talks she had with Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic on the sidelines of the Conference of the OSCE, the OSCE representative Dunja Mijatović, expressed satisfaction with the support she received during the Serbian presidency of OSCE and stressed that cooperation and communication with the Government of Serbia is at a high level.

She welcomed the adoption of the new media laws and "strong commitment" of the Serbian government to implement reforms in the media and at the same time stressed that Serbia can be an example for countries in the region in terms of introducing best practices in Europe.

At the end of the conference, the delegations of the participating countries thanked Serbia on the organization of the conference. The Director of the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Andrei Richter said that the office "recorded" all delivered opinions  at the conference and it is now necessary to strengthen attention and deal with new challenges, reported the Beta.

"Having in mind that the situation of journalists who are the lifeblood of democracy will continue to occupy a high place on the agenda of the mission, it is important not to fall under the influence of government and laws that restrict freedom of research," he said.

For the Centre T.J.