Serbia urged to uphold freedom of expression while also countering hate speech
© Unsplash/Nikola Rakic A view of the northern city of Novi Sad along the banks of the Danube river in Serbia.
The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression said she was encouraged by the Government’s plans to reform media laws in line with international standards.
However, she was also alarmed by “the toxic public discourse, from politicians or public officials and amplified by tabloids, scapegoating the media, human rights defenders, ethnic minorities, LGBTI and those critical of the government.”
Undermining public trust
Ms. Khan warned that public trust in the media is undermined when journalists are labelled foreign agents, traitors, or enemies of the State, which increases the likelihood of attacks against the press while also impacting media freedom and democratic debate.
“Freedom of expression is not a license to harass, intimidate or threaten critical voices,” she stressed.
She urged the government to ensure that all State bodies implement the constitutional and legal framework upholding freedom of expression while combating hate speech and disinformation.
Action against tabloids
“Given the role that tabloids play in spreading hate speech, I am concerned that the electronic media regulatory body (REM) is failing to take appropriate action against the violators, failing to promote pluralism in media content, and allowing smear campaigns and harassment to continue,” the rights expert said.
REM must be “independent, effective and accountable,” she advised.
She also urged the Government to ensure the safety of journalists by taking measures to speed up investigations and legal proceedings related to threats and attacks.
Political will required
Ms. Khan called on the authorities to investigate and prosecute longstanding cases of journalists killed in Serbia. “Killing journalists is the most egregious form of censorship. Impunity must not prevail,” she said.
Finally, she stressed that the adoption of laws alone was not sufficient to protect freedom of expression.
“What is needed is strong, unequivocal political leadership from the commitment to international standards. The legal commitments of the Government must be translated into action.”
Visit to Kosovo
Ms. Khan also travelled to neighbouring Kosovo during her visit. While welcoming the “pluralistic media landscape” there, she encouraged the authorities to continue to strengthen media freedom.
“I urge the authorities to fully implement the law on languages and call on the international community to ensure adequate support to independent Serbian language media,” she said.
They should also complete investigations into past killings and enforced disappearances of journalists, and ensure justice, she added.
About UN Rapporteurs
Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues.
These experts work on a voluntary basis and serve in their individual capacity.
They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.
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