The majority of Serbian media are more interested in a high profile murder investigation than the effects of a newly voted legislation on policing.
By Luka Ličina (BCSP) / Photo: Vuk Jeremić (Media Centre, Belgrade)
As providers of news and information, media’s messages influence the attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and voting patterns of the public. For this reason, government officials and special interest groups attempt to influence the content of media for the purpose of shaping public opinion. About media reporting, police work and their cooperation the POINTPULSE Network talked with Vuk Jeremic, journalist of Serbian daily newspaper Danas.
─ Why is cooperation between media and police important?
Given the fact that their powers include the legitimized use of force, the police is a very important part of society. As such, it’s imperative that those powers are not abused in any way. Unfortunately, in our recent past, we witnessed police force being misused in the most horrific way that can be imagined. In some ways, a lighter version of that practice can be seen today, for example when the minister of interior affairs holds a press conference with armed members of Special Forces standing behind him. I think that one of the roles of media is to limit, if not eliminate, that kind of practices. And it’s really hard for media to do that without police cooperation.
─ Do media in Serbia report about police work in the proper way?
Unfortunately, no. Just look at the recent newspaper headlines and you’ll see why I feel that way. The majority of Serbian media are more interested in a high profile murder investigation than the effects of a newly voted legislation that is going to have a long-term effect on the way the police is organized. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently bad about reporting on a murder investigation, I just feel that journalists have to be very careful when they do it because there is always danger that irresponsible reporting could jeopardize the police investigation. In my opinion, our media cross a line in the sand too often. It’s probably my utopian view of journalism, but I think that Serbian media are not paying enough attention to the important issues just because they are not attractive.
─ How can media reporting affect police integrity?
That depends on the type of reporting. Socially responsible reporting that tackles important issues and contributes to the transparency of police work, whilst respecting the legal and ethical boundaries, can empower the integrity of police force. That form of journalism can contribute to the public’s trust in its police officers. On the other hand, tabloid reporting that uses plenty of off the record quotes, and unverified pieces of information can deteriorate both police and media integrity. But, it sells the papers. A big chunk of responsibility for the way media are going to cover police related themes lays on the police themselves.
─ How do you assess communication between the police and media in Serbia?
Not good enough. As I mentioned, the police are just as responsible for its public image as are the members of the press. Official channels of communication, the most reliable way of attaining information, in my opinion, are not always working. For example, I found it almost impossible to get any official piece of information when people from the police who are responsible for public relations, feel that certain piece of information could be used to portray the police force in a negative way. Also, since Nebojsa Stefanovic became the minister of interior affairs police officials have stopped giving on the record statements. Communication between police and media is one-sided. They publish press releases and expect that you print it without making changes. Anything other than that they perceive as negative reporting. They have their media and ignore everybody else.
─ What is the main recommendation for improving media and police cooperation in Serbia?
Police need to open up. They have to realize that analytical reporting that examines, and sometimes criticizes police is not only beneficial to the public, but also for themselves. Besides opening official forms of communication, they really have to shut down, or at least put under control, information leaks. They jeopardize the police investigations and deteriorate police integrity. Also, police need to stop media segregation and enable access to information to everybody. I have to say that, unfortunately, I don’t see this happening in the immediate future.