BELGRADE – Good communication of the police through media and social networks contributes to greater confidence in the police, which means that citizens will inform police officers, and not tabloids when they see a security-threatening situation on the street, it was highlighted at the event dedicated to police communication that Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) organized on June 14, 2018 in Belgrade.

Insufficient transparency of the police, leaks or placement of information from the investigation and unprofessional tabloid media reporting are three main problems that negatively affect communication between media and police in the region.

The biggest problem in the region is the leak of information from the police to certain media outlets which is most pronounced in Serbia, said Legal Adviser of the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia Marija Vukasović.

“The leak of information leads to violation of laws and endangering the outcome of the investigation. In order to solve this problem, it is important that the police internal control bodies checks the situation even when there is just a hint that the leak has occurred and that the responsible persons be sanctioned. Journalists must respect ethical codes, and it is necessary to insist that media that violate the code of ethics cannot apply for public funding,” Vukasović said.

Journalist of the Politika daily Aleksandar Bojović, who has long been following the work of the police in Serbia, and vice-president of the Police Professional Association “Dr. Rudolf Arčibald Rajs”, Vladimir Džigurski, agree that the “leakage” of information from the police is very bad.

“A journalist must be fair and objective, and not act as a witness. The journalist cannot criticize one side without calling and asking for a comment. The journalist is not a police officer, nor a judge or a lawyer, but should ask questions in the name of ordinary citizens who do not have the chance to do so,” Bojović stressed.

Džigurski added that it is always very difficult to prove “leaks” of information and that it’s questionable where are they coming from – whether the information is “leaked” by the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office or the defense attorneys.

An additional problem in communication between the media and the police is that the Ministry of Interior responds if the media outlet is in favor of the Ministry, and not when the public needs to be informed, Bojović says.

“The police are not open enough in communication with journalists and citizens. Moreover, based on interviews with police officers, I concluded that they have anxiety when talking with reporters because they do not have the approval and are scared for their job. They are much freer before cameras or recorders are turned on and give and recommend interesting information and topics. It stops as soon as we start to talk officially, when they stick to a legal and bureaucratic language,” Bojović emphasized.

Police in the Western Balkans are not sufficiently present on social media, but speakers agreed that they should exploit their expansion.

For better communication, it is important to accept the recommendation of the British Parliament that institutions should be where citizens are, and citizens are now on social media, said digital media expert Marko Živković.

“Police in Montenegro and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina do not have any presence on social media, while police in other states in the region generally perceive these channels as traditional media and lack the most important thing, which is two-way communication. The potential for communication and education is great, as 8.5 million of the 12 million Internet users also use Facebook,” Živković pointed out.

The Ministry of Interior monitors modern trends on the Internet, said Džigurski.

“Instagram and Facebook are slowly becoming a service for citizens. It’s not just police promotion, but advices for traveling, how to protect yourself from bicycle theft, how to secure apartments in holiday seasons. I consider that after a decade’s silence this start is a great move for the police in Serbia,” Džigurski emphasized.

The event was organized within the framework of the following projects: “Supporting Improvement of Police Communication in the Western Balkans” supported by the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), and “Western Balkans Pulse for Police Integrity and Trust” supported by the European Union (EU) through the program “Civil Society Facility”. The views and opinions said at the event do not represent the views of the DCAF and EU.

TAGS: AdvocacyBelgradeExternal OversightMedia and PoliceSocial MediaTransparency