For gathering information from police, journalists in Serbia rely on statements or information that was given by high-position police officials.
By Luka Ličina (BCSP) / Photo: Marko Subotić (Al Jazeera)
The POINTPULSE Network talked with Marko Subotic, journalist of one of the largest news outlets in the Western Balkans “Al Jazeera”, about the attitude of journalists towards police and their mutual communication. Subotic was the only journalist that asked questions to the Minister of Interior on press conferences in December 2015 about arrests after police action “Cutter” where 79 people were arrested for corruption.
─ Why is cooperation between media and police significant?
The right of public to know how police works is one of the main drivers of cooperation between media and police. If police is Government’s body empowered to enforce the law, protect citizens and limit civil disorder, than it can use force to protect citizen’s rights. If there is a lack of public control of police, there is a danger for the police to exceed in exercising its powers. Media must follow every police activity in order to control it, but media reports must not jeopardize police work. The cooperation between media and police must be directed to information availability and openness of police work.
─ Do media report about police work in the proper way and can it affect police integrity?
Media in Serbia mostly report about police work during some crime investigation and often, especially in newspapers, there is unofficial information about investigation, which could endanger police work. Police failed to stop information leakage, and in some cases public knew, before anybody else, who were the suspects. Police officials often complain that any premature public release of crucial aspects of investigation could jeopardize their work. On the other hand, media do not report about police work conditions, nor they analyze law or regulations, which directly affects the work of policemen.
─What are differences, or similarities, for the Western Balkans communities in regard to cooperation between media and police?
In gathering information from police, journalists in Serbia rely on statements or information that was given by high ranking police officials. Quotes or statements are usually given by ministers of interior or heads of police units. Unlike Croatia, Serbian police does not have a spokesperson who would be available for media inquiries. That is a big problem when you need quick reaction from police and you do not have high-ranking officials at disposal. The same situation is in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Police needs one person to give official information to journalists, whenever ministers or commanders are not available.
─ Why is it important that journalists ask questions on press conferences about police work? Is it a common practice in Serbia? Is the situation similar in other Western Balkan countries?
Whenever there is some big police activity, minister of interior or the Director of police hold press conferences where they provide information. Those events are open for journalists to ask questions but sometimes they end without any questions asked. It is important to ask police so every detail of its activity is explained. If police give its statement without answering questions, the public will not have full picture of what happened. Police will give just basic information, and journalist should ask the details weather is about the arrests or some embezzlement.
─ How do you assess communication between the police and media in the region?
Communication between journalist and police goes through the police Information Bureau. It is an office where journalists can submit questions or ask for a statement from police officials. Sometimes they are quick in replying, but usually they need at least 24 hours to answer journalist requests. If journalists have questions, they need to go through official email. People who work in Information Bureau are very helpful but they need to comply with regulations. That’s why police needs official spokesperson who would give prompt statements.