Websites using humour to report on politics and controversial issues have earned the respect of citizens and journalists.
By Lily Lynch for the Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 30/01/13
Njuz has won numerous awards since it was launched in 2010. [Lily Lynch/SETimes]
As media in Serbia reported on alleged war criminal and current Hague indictee Vojislav Seselj's pacemaker operation, Njuz.net, a satirical website run by a group of young Serbs, ran the headline, "During pacemaker operation, Seselj's heart is found."
Through satire, the news portal was able to editorialise the attitudes of the majority of young Serbs towards the man accused of crimes against humanity.
In recent years, satirical news sites like Njuz have emerged across the region.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), BalkanTajms.com, which satirises local and regional politics, is growing in popularity. The Croatian site news-bar.hr covers similar topics. Even Montenegro, with a population of little more than 632,000, has satirical web portal rastanj.me.
The sites are popular with young people, and have strong visibility on social networks. Njuz's Facebook page is approaching 100,000 "likes," and recently launched an English language site called The Global Edition.
Another shared trait is the sites' tendencies to lampoon politicians.
After Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic criticised Prime Minister Ivica Dacic for his recent meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, saying that the presidents of the respective countries should have met first, News Bar ran a picture of Nikolic with the caption: "It's not okay, President Josipovic, I should have played hide-and-seek first!"
Marko Drazic, who has worked for major Serbian media outlets and is the editor of Njuz, noticed that audiences discuss controversial topics somewhat differently in the comments section of Njuz than in those of traditional media.
"Commenters … have the same discussions and arguments that they do on the traditional sites about things like Kosovo or the pride parade, but somehow on Njuz the discussions are less brutal, people are more civilised in their debates," Drazic told SETimes.
While the portals frequently spark political debates, most journalists for the satirical sites say they started them for fun. However, they all recognise the potential social value of satire for the region.
"We decided to launch a website that would be independent of any political influence and show citizens that politicians are not untouchable, that every citizen has the right to criticise the work of those who are elected to serve the people," Vlado Lucic, founder of News Bar told SETimes.
Viktor Markovic, editor-in-chief for The Global Edition and journalist for Njuz, said the site may have influenced the way people in Serbia read and think about news as it's reported through traditional sources.
"I think people are a little less likely to believe everything they read. They may have read the 'real' news with more critical thinking."