Investigative journalism gains ground in Serbia


Investigative journalists for the television show "Insajder" have had notable success in holding politicians and business tycoons accountable for misconduct.

By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 12/01/13


Investigative journalists have to contend with print media sensationalism. [AFP]

Numerous cases of misconduct have been uncovered in recent months in Serbia as a result of the media increasingly investigating criminal wrongdoing, but despite the momentum, the work of investigative journalists is still obstructed by officials and can be dangerous.

The television show "Insajder" has reported on a diverse set of topics ranging from corruption at the Kolubara mining basin to the misuse of budget funds earmarked to assist vulnerable people in Kosovo.

Perhaps the most far-reaching topics concern regional tycoons obtaining land and participating in illegal privatisations -- the latest example included the arrest of tycoon Miroslav Miskovic.

"One of the most important aspects of our work is to separate imputations from information that is worth checking," Irena Stevic, a member of the "Insajder" team, told SETimes.

The show frequently uses the Access to Information of Public Importance Act to request information from government sources. While some institutions' answers arrive before the deadline stipulated by the law, there are instances when journalists must fight to ensure the public's right to information, Stevic said.

"We are proud that after the series 'Abuse of Office', the law allowing tycoons to use dubiously acquired money to buy cheap land was changed. And after the series 'Patriotic Robbery', the double salaries for privileged individuals from the Serbian and Kosovo budgets, were abolished," Stevic said.

"We exposed these false patriots who did not think twice about receiving two wages while the majority of Serbs in Kosovo live on the edge of existence," she added.

However, investigative journalism comes at a price.

"Insajder" editor Brankica Stankovic's life was threatened after a series on violence in sports, and she is now under police protection.

"Her personal and professional life will never be the same. Professionally, she can no longer work as an 'Insajder' author and journalist, because it will be impossible to guarantee secrecy to sources when the police are constantly behind her back," Stevic said.

Investigative journalism also has to contend with tabloids whose overemphasis on scandals has led to sensationalism.

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The tabloid coverage of the arrest and trial of former Environment Minister Oliver Dulic, according to Tamara Skorza, journalist at the weekly Vreme, in effect sentenced him before the court proceedings were over, turning journalism into a media campaign.

"Dulic very quickly became a major media topic, and when he was indicted, the public no longer doubted his guilt," Skroza told SETimes.

Despite the challenges, citizens seem to support investigative journalism.

"The media should be the corrector of government; a government should fear serious media," Milos Savic, a computer proragmmer from Belgrade, told SETimes.

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