BELGRADE − Diminished integrity of the Police is trampling on the relations with the media and is preventing proper informing of the public, this is the conclusion of the third panel from the Conference “Security Challenges as a Link between the Citizens and Institutions”, organized by the POINTPULSE on the 21 of December 2016, in the Mikser House.
“Police integrity has weakened and this is clearly shown in the newest police integrity assessment in Serbia. This can be attributed to a number of reasons, but the crucial one is politicization, which is best seen in the relationship between the media, parties and the Ministry of Interior (MoI)”, stated by the BCSP researcher Saša Đorđević.
It was also emphasized that the citizens tend to build their relations towards the Police through personal experience, but also media reporting.
“The basic problem resides in the difficulties in acquiring information from the Police, especially when it comes to having interviewees who would present them to the journalists. A novelty that could prove to be beneficial is to introduce regular public presentations of reports on Police work. TV journalists are always faced with the problem of having interviewees who would give statements before the camera. In this regard, a spokesperson would be an ideal solution, since the police would be a lot more accessible to the media”, RTS journalists Biljana Radulović affirmed.
Vuk Jeremić, “Danas” journalists, agreed with this suggestion. He acknowledged that the accessibility of information needs to be equal for everybody, but that it also needs to be limited by other rights, such as the presumption of innocence.
„A spokesperson, with great insight into how the Police and the MoI operate, needs to be put in place. This person would be aware of what is allowed to be said, and would hand out this information to all media without distinction”, Jeremić concluded.
He also pointed out that in the latest period there is noticeable trend on the MoI’s side in distinguishing between “our” and “their” media: “More often than not, I encounter problems in gaining information, no matter how insignificant it is, since I am perceived as a “their” media journalist. Moreover, I was told on multiple occasions by my sources that they had trouble as a result of providing me with certain information”.
BIRN Serbia editor Slobodan Georgiev presumed that the relationship between the media and the Police should function smoothly since they both have a common goal and that is the protection of public interest. However, the reality is something completely different: “In an informal setting, journalists have a good relationship with the representatives of the MoI. However, in order for a journalist to professionally conduct his work, this is simply not enough. Likewise, people running the Police are under tremendous political pressure which leads to them not being able to perform their duties properly. Journalists are looked upon as political opponents, rather as the protectors of public interest.”
Information leakage from Police investigations is the second biggest problem mentioned by the discussion participants. Georgiev stated that this is not a spontaneous problem- rather, it indicates the existence of cracks in the MoI’s system, as well as the lack of professionalism of certain journalists who are willing to exploit these findings: “An even greater problem exists when this information is published in its raw form. The number of copies keeps plummeting while everybody seeks to publish an exclusive story, but professionals need to take care of how they are going to handle this piece of information later on. Meanwhile, both politicians and the media benefit from these situations. On the other hand, the public remains a victim.”
Stevan Dojčinović, the KRIK editor, insists that information gathered from investigative and tabloid stories can often be the same, even though the reasons for these stories being published are completely different: “The objective of publishing is of crucial importance. For the tabloids, the objective is witch hunting, while investigative journalists want to inform the citizens on certain issues of public importance”.
Dojčinović also added that information leakage is not necessarily a negative phenomenon, provided that is has gone through a proper checking procedure: “Information leakage is not the problem- the problem is the distribution of this information. Repeatedly we witness the publication of information on certain businessmen, political opponents, but this is only a media campaign for police actions that would ensue.
This event was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union through the Civil Society Facility Programme and the regional “Think and Link” program of the European Fund for the Balkans.