The government of Viktor Orban in Hungary and the administration of Aleksandar Vucic in Serbia “have had great success in snuffing out critical journalism, blazing a trail for populist forces elsewhere. Both leaders have consolidated media ownership in the hands of their cronies, ensuring that the outlets with the widest reach support the government and smear its perceived opponents,” says Freedom House in its Freedom and the Media Report for 2019, published on June 5. The report’s author, Sarah Repucci, said that the decline of media freedom in the wake of Aleksandar Vucic’s coming to power “is a reason for serious concern.”
The degree of ownership consolidation over the media that has happened in Hungary is yet to take hold in Serbia, according to Freedom House. The report adds that during recent privatization drives, several outlets were acquired by the people friendly with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. Individual acquisitions by the people close to the authorities are also taking place, says the report.
Serbia’s media environment is much tougher on journalists doing their day-to-day job than is Hungary’s. Smear campaigns and verbal harassment from politicians and online accounts are omnipresent, attacks from pro-government tabloids are a regular occurrence, while media workers are frequently called traitors and foreign hirelings, Freedom House says.
“Serbia is a democracy, and there is still a chance for a rotation of power. We can continue to be optimists and believe that something will indeed change. But, when all this is taken into account, the situation is quite serious. When such measures are taken and when norms in the country change, it is very, very difficult to go back,” Sarah Repucci said for Voice of Amerika.