“Serbia against violence” and tabloids against the truth, ethics, empathy

Illustration: FakeNews Tracker

Original article (in Serbian) was published on 19/05/2023

After the unprecedented tragedies that shocked Serbia at the beginning of May, civil protests took place in several cities. According to the established pattern, the protests were followed by a series of disinformation about the participants, opposition politicians and the goal of the gathering in the pro-regime newspapers. In addition to the standard templates about “threatening mobs” and “ambulances that couldn’t get through”, some disinformation deserves a bit more attention.

Crossing out requests

“Despite the fact that the government, by adopting a whole package of concrete measures, at the same time ‘crossed out’ from the list the majority of demands that part of the opposition parties made after two major tragedies in our country, yesterday in Belgrade the protest ‘Serbia against violence’ was organized”. With this sentence, Vecernje novosti started an article about the aforementioned gathering the day after the second Belgrade protest. However, this sentence does not correspond to the truth.

Immediately after the tragedy, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic went public with 10 measures that should improve the situation in society after the massacre. Although the Government ordered the competent ministries to act following the recommendations the very next day, these measures do not fully match the demands of the protest.

While half of Vucic’s measures are focused on the “disarmament of Serbia”, the demands of the opposition are more focused on violence in the media and the responsibility of the executive power. At the protests, according to media and political organizations, the following are demanded: the removal of REM’s council, the shutdown of print media and tabloids that continuously violate the journalists’ code, the confiscation of national frequencies from television stations Pink and Happy, the cancellation of programs that promote violence, immorality and aggression such as reality shows program, the dismissal of the police ministers Gasic and Vulin, the head of the BIA and the session of the Assembly where the responsibility of the Government and the security situation in the country will be considered.

However, of all these demands, only the one concerning the Assembly session regarding the consideration of the Government’s responsibility for tragedies and the security situation in the country has been fulfilled so far. Even during the weekend, President Aleksandar Vucic openly said that the Minister of Police won’t be dismissed, but that the entire Government can only be replaced, after which “the elections can take place”.

Nebojsa Krstic on France

On Saturday, the day after the second Belgrade protest, the daily Informer published a statement made by Nebojsa Krstic, who said that “protests have been going on in Paris for weeks (…). No one thought of blocking the highway or the bridge”. However, this is disinformation. Just a few months ago, demonstrators in Paris blocked one of the main roads in Paris. By the way, the demonstrators in Paris have so far blocked the Louvre museum, the railway and bus stations, the airport, and it was recorded that a bridge was also blocked near Nantes, along with the highway.

Variations on the topic of the number of protest participants

The first protest called “Serbia against violence” was held in Belgrade on Monday, May 8, and due to the non-fulfilment of the protesters’ demands, a second protest followed on Friday, May 12. The third is scheduled for today.

After the first protest, some media reported that 50,000 people had gathered. On the other hand, President Vucic said the same evening that there were about 9,000 people at the protest. The differences in the estimates are large, and the topic of the number of participants in the protests is sensitive, but Aleksandar Gubas, who has been dealing with the estimation of the number of participants in the protests for years, says that there were about 20 thousand of people at the first protest.

While the protest was still going on, Informer published an article on its web portal featuring the following title: “The protest was so successful that the traffic in front of the Parliament is functioning normally!”, showing alongside it a photo of the plateau after the demonstrators had left it. The web portal Raskrikavanje wrote about this disinformation, but also about the manipulative display of the number of demonstrators on television with a national frequency.

After the second protest, the media were somewhat more careful with their estimates of the number of people gathered. An edited photo showing a huge number of demonstrators gathered in front of the Assembly appeared on social networks. This photo was hastily published by some opposition politicians, so the pro-regime tabloids gloated over their gaffe in the following days. The President of the Freedom and Justice Party, Dragan Djilas, admitted the mistake and apologized.

According to the estimates of Aleksandar Gubas, about 25 thousand people gathered at the second protest.

Who was the director of the Children’s Village in 2011?

After the former president of the Democratic Party, Bojan Pajtic, commented in the show Utisak nedelje about the authorities’ bad treatment of the current situation in the country and the protests, he too found himself to be the target of the tabloids. On Monday, Informer published a news article titled “After the murder in Children’s Village, Pajtic did not demand personal responsibility and did not offer to resign… And when you hear who was the director”, alluding to the alleged hypocrisy of Pajtic. In the article, you can read that the director at the time of the murder in Children’s Village in 2011 was Srdjan Egic, Pajtic’s former political colleague from the Democratic Party.
However, when the media archive (1, 2, 3) related to the murder in the Children’s Village in Sremska Kamenica is searched, we come to the information that at that time the director was Branka Balaban, “who resigned after on June 7, 2011, a minor protege killed Svetlana Zoric, who was working as a cook”, according to a web portal 021. Before Egic, Milena Vasin Stupar was also the head of this institution, while he became the director only in 2014.