The two press freedom groups noted that Serbia’s OK Radio, a leading independent radio station which covers local news in the southern city of Vranje, has battled with Dejan K., a powerful gambling businessperson, with the radio station reportedly coming under pressure after it complaint to an inspector about plans by a company connected to Kantar to illegally build a new gambling business on the site next to the radio station.
The press and OK Radio noted that following the filing masked individuals smashed windows at the No Comment Cafe, a business attached to the station which is also also provides OK Radio with a large part of its income.
That said, in early June, construction of the betting shop continued—allegedly without permits—and one of the windows of the radio station was walled up overnight, with OK Radio reporting the news and shared pictures. Soon after, the café was vandalised again when a man was filmed spray painting the building, and an individual then entered the café holding a mobile phone with the speaker turned on, through which threats were allegedly screamed at OK Radio staff and journalists.
On June 16, Dejan K. was arrested for violent behaviour after he went to the café to allegedly threaten OK Radio journalists. Two other individuals who are alleged to have carried out attacks on his behalf have also been detained. All three are facing criminal charges brought by prosecutors and have denied the allegations.
Additionally, Dejan K. is noted as a leading figure in the local gambling and construction industry, is currently serving separate sentences for violent behaviour and illegal betting. Interestingly, according to both press rights groups, although a planning inspector has ordered the illegal building to be demolished, local companies have refused to carry out the demolition for fear of reprisals.
Likewise, two employees have left their jobs at OK Radio over fears for their safety.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Media Freedom Rapid Response have since published the following:
“Our organisations view these actions as a brazen attempt by a local strongman to threaten the media outlet into silence, put its staff in danger, and intimidate other journalists from critical reporting on Kantar and his business interests. These tactics are used all too often by powerful business interests in Serbia who feel that they can threaten the media with impunity.
“We urge Serbian authorities to ensure the safety of the journalists and staff at OK Radio and demonstrate that such attacks on journalists will not go unpunished. We also welcome the vocal support given to OK Radio by media representatives of the Permanent Working Group for Safety of Journalists and the wider journalistic community in Serbia. Our organisations will continue to monitor the situation closely and will be watching for the next hearing in the trial on the violent attacks against OK Radio scheduled for September 30.”
- ARTICLE 19 Europe
- International Press Institute (IPI)
- European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
- European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
- Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
- OBC Transeuropa
“This statement has been coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by a consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) including ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission. www.mfrr.eu.”
Photo credit: Auckland Museum, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons