There have been some positive developments in press freedom in the region, according to South East Europe Media Organisation head Oliver Vujovic.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times -- 11/09/12
Press freedom in the region still faces obstacles. [Reuters]
Although problems remain in the region concerning press freedom, South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic lauded recent efforts in the region to promote press freedom.
In early August, the watchdog hailed a presidential pardon of a Vojvodina citizen who was sentenced to 150 days in prison in July because he could not pay a fine for a commentary he wrote in the Novi Sad-based daily Magyar Szo.
Asked if he saw efforts to improve the media situation in all of the regional countries in recent months, Vujovic said there were positive areas, but concern remains over some developments.
On August 22nd, the organisation condemned the Greek border police for blocking Albanian Top Chanel TV journalist Marin Mema's entry into the country for a private visit over a report he had done on Greece.
"Reporters should be allowed to travel both as private citizens and as information professionals," Vujovic said. "The border police appear to have violated several international standards by impeding the journalist's free movement. Press freedom cannot stop at countries' borders."
Vujovic told SETimes that SEEMO identified several "problematic areas" in regards to press freedom in the Southeast European countries.
The first, he said, concerned the difficulties reporters in small towns and cities in the region face.
"These journalists are very often under pressure from local business persons and local politicians," said Vujovic. "It means that the threat does not always come from the capital, from the main cities in one country. It can very often come from the local level."
Another key problem was what he dubbed the "advertising mafia."
In some cases, journalists are being barred by advertisers from writing about a case of corruption or other illegal activity.
Sometimes, "the media owner personally, or the editor-in-chief could pressure a journalist not to report about some topic, because the media owner is afraid to lose his advertising partner," Vujovic said.
The third problem he identified concerned media ownership, or "the need for more transparency" in that field. Research shows that "very often the real owners of the media are other people than those written on paper," he noted.
According to Vujovic, reporters in Macedonia had "many problems" in the past two years.
"There was a strong feeling among journalists that self-censorship could become more a reality. And according to our sources, that's true. Journalists are more threatened than in the past."
In Serbia, as well as the rest of the region, he said, one of the biggest obstacles to press freedom is the courts.
"Whatever happens against a journalist maybe the police can do their job, but then we have the courts and the courts are not always working professionally and they are often very slow. And this is also problem for the security of journalists and the freely reporting of journalists," Vujovic said.
SEEMO, founded in Croatia in 2003, is an independent organisation of more than 100 newspaper editors and media outlets, including newspapers, radio, magazines and television.