Serbia’s media stage blackout over government’s pressure on free press

Serbia’s embattled independent media outlets have staged a blackout to warn against what they say is Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic’s muzzling of free press by intimidation, threats, and financial pressure.

The initiative was prompted by the recent closure of an independent newspaper in southern Serbia and public attacks on journalists by a ruling party.

“These latest incidents are just a symbol of the media darkness in Serbia, which did not begin yesterday,” Slavisa Lekic, head of Serbia’s independent journalists association said.

“We have decided to open the eyes of the public and ask them to show solidarity with the journalists.”

Dozens of Serbian media outlets and non-government organisations darkened their web pages for several minutes at noon on Thursday, with a white inscription warning: “This is what it looks like when there is no free press!”

The campaign aimed to alert the public “that the media freedom in our country is dying, and that we all must fight to preserve it,” protest organisers said in a statement.

Some newspapers appeared on newsstands with a black ribbon printed on front pages as part of the action dubbed “STOP media darkness in Serbia.”

Vucic, a former extreme nationalist who now calls himself a reformist, has dismissed the accusations of the media crackdown as attempts to discredit his government.

Thursday’s action was boycotted by mainstream media and the official journalists’ association, which said the protest was aimed at dividing the press into “ours and theirs.”