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Europe Open - Civil Society and Free media in Serbia

21.05.2015  11:19

As part of the initiative "Europe Open" of the EU Delegation to Serbia, the Embassy of Denmark opened its doors today to journalism students and Professor Snježana Milivojević from the Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade. The Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation, which the embassy supports financially, participated. Read more about the event here.

The ambassador’s opening remarks were afterwards quoted in Serbian media. Below you will find our English translation:

"Importance of the government control"

Media freedom is important for informing the civil society and controlling the executive authorities, said the Danish Ambassador Michael Borg Hansen to Fonet today, recalling that the promotion of media freedom is one of the things that the Embassy assists."

He said that exactly because of that assistance, he decided to invite students of journalism to the Open day at the Embassy, adding that Denmark provides assistance based on its own experience in building a solid and cohesive civil society.

It is the media that can provide a wide debate, providing information to the society so that all the citizens can get appropriate legislation and so that executive authorities would be responsible, said Borg-Hansen.

We believe that to be important and we hope to influence Serbian society because we think it is a way to create a mature and functioning democracy, he stressed that.

Ambassador has, during the discussion with the students, said that the issue of media freedom is important for the process of Serbia's accession to the European Union.

We need to provide the basis for free debates and we encourage that, he added.

Borg Hansen said that his country wants other societies to develop on their own with strong governments but added that it requires independent control and for this reason the journalists must be protected.

According to him, Denmark also finances the draft of the law on the rights of citizens during natural disasters, such as the floods last year.

He recalled that Serbia does not have a law that specifies the rights of citizens in such cases.

We also have a modest program of cooperation between the Serbian and the Danish Ombudsman, he said and explained that in his country the Ombudsman does not deal with human rights, as it is the case in Serbia because there is a separate institution for this.

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"Media facing new challenges"

In continuation of the of the initiative Europe Open, on the occasion of the Europe Day, the Embassy of Denmark hosted students of the Faculty of Political Sciences yesterday in order to start a debate on the role of the civil society and media freedom. Danish Ambassador, Michael Borg-Hansen, was the host of the meeting, and as a part of this initiative, students got the chance to talk also with the professor Snjezana Milivojevic, as well as the representatives of Slavko Curuvija Foundation, Ilir Gashi and Jelena Curuvija.

After he explained the basis of the power of civil society in Denmark to the guests, the ambassador referred to the importance of the media.
  - The role of the media is very important because who else would inform our citizens and society about the issues that are relevant and of public interest. Executive authority is generally a part of those problems and therefore the independence of the media should be encouraged through public debates, which is actually the wish of our embassy, to promote that in other countries - said the Ambassador.
 Michael Borg-Hansen stressed that civil society and free media is also very important for Serbia and its path towards the European Union.

He then explained his country's share in the development of the civil society in Serbia by supporting the private sector, especially agriculture in the south of Serbia. Still, they feel most proud about the support that they provide to the Foundation Slavko Curuvija.
- We are very pleased to participate in their promotion of press freedom. We also cooperate with the Ombudsman in a small project. He was in contact with our Ombudsman, whose institutional model is very old and is greatly respected. It was used as a model for many similar institutions in other countries. However, there are some differences, since in Serbia the Ombudsman also deals with human rights, while we have another institution to do that. Denmark finances also the making of the draft of the law on the rights of citizens during natural disasters such as the floods last year - said the ambassador and recalled that Serbia has currently no law that specifies the rights of the citizens in such cases.

Ilir Gashi, the Director of the Foundation Slavko Curuvija, has explained Foundation's objectives to the students. The objectives include the support to the local media, as well as the education of the young journalists on the investigative journalism and techniques that are needed for this, but also for improving the ethics and standards of journalism.

-Today journalists only transmit the information, they do not put them into context and do not ask questions . What we want to achieve with our programs is to teach the young journalists the investigative journalism, to teach them to gather the facts and to start checking them . When you have a research paper , it is full of facts, and you should have checked each single one. The reality of the media is a reality that encompasses all other realities . What we really wanted to achieve with our coming here is to hear what you, as future journalists, think about the media in Serbia , in order to improve our work - Gasi said.

Although the idea of strong , stable and critical media has been born a long ago, the Professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences Snjezana Milivojevic believes that the things in our part of the world are different because of the years of struggle for freedom of the named. She pointed out that it is very important how the media serves the civil society, and how the society serves the media.
- Why to have just one watchdog , when we have two . Together we should join our critical forces for the progress of the society because both truths are focused on the burning issues . Civil society is not just something that just exists , but it promotes an open debate and it is essential for a democratic society - said Snjezana.

The debate has prompted the question of the new online media which the participants saw as a good way to achieve true and free journalism. Besides the fear of tabloidization of media and collapsing of the journalistic ethics , some of the students also questioned the position of the media as a watchdog.
- The world is faced with a media revolution and the new role of a journalist is to maintain the social debate . Today , when we are overwhelmed with irrelevant information, journalists should send all critical issues and information to the public. We are facing new challenges that we simply must face , it's nothing new. This is a moment of change , whose leaders are exactly the media and civil society who have to find a new recipe - said Professor Snjezana Milivojevic.

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