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Serbia's Media Stage Blackout In Defense Of Free Press

A darkened screen of the web portal for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in support of the Stop Media Darkness campaign on September 28.

Independent media in Serbia have staged a blackout to denounce what they call the worsening situation for free media in the country.

Around 150 media outlets and nongovernmental organizations darkened their web pages for one hour at noon on September 28, with a white inscription saying, "This is what it looks like when there is no free press!"

Some independent newspapers joined the campaign, dubbed "Stop Media Darkness In Serbia." The daily Danas (Today) appeared on newsstands with a black front page with the message, "It seems like there are no free media."

A number of TV and radio stations aired jingles and videos with the campaign message during the day.

However, the action was boycotted by state media and most mainstream media outlets.

The organizers of the protest said that the action was aimed at alerting the public "that the media freedom in our country is dying and that we all must fight to preserve it." A statement said the campaign was also designed to remind people that free media still exist in Serbia.

Serbian independent journalists say the situation of the media has worsened in the past few years despite the country's proclaimed goal of joining the European Union. President Aleksandar Vucic has rejected the allegations of a media crackdown.

The campaign’s organizers said that their action was prompted by the recent closure of an independent newspaper in southern Serbia and public attacks on investigative journalists.

The weekly Vranjske Novine, known for investigating crime and corruption, was forced to close down earlier this month after more than 20 years. Its founder, Vukasin Obradovic, said the decision was made after journalists and their family members received threats and the newspaper endured repeated financial inspections.

The protest action also comes after Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin's political party called the editor of the Serbia’s Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK), Stevan Dojcinovic, a “drug addict.” The Movement of Socialists party lashed out at Dojcinovic after KRIK published an investigation into the origin of money that the minister used to buy an apartment in Belgrade.

In a November 2016 report, the European Commission said that Serbia achieved “some level of preparation" regarding freedom of expression, but still needs to "create an enabling environment in which freedom of expression can be exercised without hindrance."

With reporting by AP and BalkanInsight