Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on the Serbian government to "stop supporting and instead publicly condemn" what the organization describes as "repeated, systematic defamatory attacks" against journalists working at the privately owned N1 TV channel.
The Paris-based media freedom group said in a statement on November 20 that N1, which it described as Serbia's "only major independent TV channel," has been subjected to attacks by the government and pro-government media in recent weeks.
"The sole aim of this campaign, which is based on statements and speculation that are discriminatory and offensive, is to intimidate and scare these journalists," according to Pauline Ades-Mevel, head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.
One N1 reporter, Miodrag Sovilj, is "currently the target of an unprecedented explosion of public anger stirred up by the president's allies and pro-government media," RSF said.
Pro-government media and officials have suggested that President Aleksandar Vucic’s health deteriorated last week because of questions posed by Sovilj.
Vucic was hospitalized on November 15 with cardiovascular problems, and was released from hospital three days later.
Since November 18, the journalist has been subjected to "additional smear attempts" after photos taken when he was a student were stolen from his Myspace account and began circulating online, RSF said.
It added that Serbia's tabloids have used the pictures to portray Sovilj as an alcoholic and drug addict.
RSF said the situation is "increasingly worrying" in the Balkan country, which is now ranked 90th out of 180 countries in the media watchdog’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Vucic has been Serbia's president since 2017. He has faced accusations of curbing media freedoms and democracy.