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How the case of the journalist Barbara became a social phenomenon

Serbia is a country on the European continent, which is widely known for its wars, embargo,bombardment, reign of Slobodan Milosevic with numerous non-violent protests that were organized by the organization Otpor.

Today, 20 years later, Serbia is known in international circles as a country in transition, striving for full membership in the European Union.

On this path, the European community requires the introduction of new standards and the manner of state, economic and legal regulation. The chapters that Serbia recently opened are per-accession chapters 23 and 24 that cover basic human rights and freedoms, greater efficiency of the work of the judiciary, and freedom and security.


The priority of the Government of the Republic of Serbia is to fulfill conditions that will ensure the country’s entry into the circle of the European family. In this sense, the fulfillment of all the conditions among others and the standards that provide elementary human rights are related to freedom of speech and greater media freedom. The state of media freedom in Serbia today will be a topic that we will study in this paper. As an example, we will report on peaceful gathering of citizens against the current government that happened on 08/12/2018 and interpreted by Studio B Studio TV in a way that caused numerous negative reactions by the professional public. We will present a controversial situation that has caused a wide-scale conflict that culminated with the reaction of the High-Technology Crime Agency. Mediation methods were not applied in solving this situation. We will present primary questions as well as answers to them. Issues that are not raised and are significant in relation to the broader context and the way of peaceful resolution of the dispute of all parties involved in the conflict that would lead to peace.

Although the gathering was presented as a civic, opposition party leaders were at the forefront of a column that was held on that day in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. According to estimates by opposition leaders that day, about 10,000 people gathered on one of their Twitter profiles by one of the opposition leaders, Dragan Djilas.  

Belgrade TV Studio B reported that day from the scene. An event was reporting a journalist with a one-year journalistic career, Barbara Životić. In order to better explain the cause of the conflict, we present the journal report of the television Studio B:

The clock in the upper part of the screen shows that at the time of the reporting it was 20: 08 h and that the protest ended in that period.

A quote:

A gathering started at 18 h is currently completed. We are on the plateau outside the Faculty of Philosophy;a very small number of people are gathered, far less than expected. Of course, an incident broke out. Everything was peaceful except the incident where people were pushing and hitting with umbrellas. Of course, this was expected in such a protest. This was supposed to be a spontaneous, peaceful protest against the rebellion against violence. Of course, after this protest, the main financier was the leader of the opposition who financed the protest and gathered the alleged foreign personalities in order to gather as many citizens as possible.Protest blocked traffic far few people attended the protest. How our journalist  reported us was quite unorganized. The complainants from the Old City (part of Belgrade) complained that they had received messages from Dragan Djilas, so that they would also attend the protest in as many complaints that they were disturbed by them in the late hours and from where their phone numbers had left them when they did not leave their personal data.

As I said protest is organized against violence under the slogan Stop with bloodshot shirts, which is a lot of hypocrisy because those people who organized call for lynching,rape, violence, coup, we consider it very hypocritical. Especially in the situation when our state needs to be calm and stable situation due to the events in Kosovo and Metohija they organize protests.

The protest Stop bloody skirts was preceded by a series of verbal incidents between representatives of the Serbian authorities and opposition parties. The escalation of violence resulted in an attack on the opposition member Borko Stefanovic. The incident was preceded by numerous mutual threats and insults on social networks.

Reporting from the journalist Barbara Životić’s protests has provoked numerous reactions from the professional public as well as fellow journalists. The greatest attention was attracted by the Twitter comment of Ivan Ivanovic, the author and the leader of humorous show Evening with Ivan Ivanovic, who condemned Studio B reporting with the words:

I’m fencing these. These are not my colleagues. I invite all honorable journalists to do the same,publicly. We watched this in the 1990 and it did not turn out well. Let’s repeat again: These are not journalists.

The next day at the press conference of the president of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic,journalist Jelena Djukic, Pancevo TV, asked the president what he thought about the threats and insults brought by the actor Sergej Trifunovic on the social networks besides the aforementioned Ivan Ivanovic?

The president stood in the defense of a journalist pointing out that journalists must be safe and to do their job without fail and professionally praising Barbara and her work and the importance of media freedom in Serbia].

It is clear that several actors participated in the conflict, journalist Barbara Životić, her colleague from Pančevo Television, opposition leaders and members of opposition parties in Serbia, journalist Ivan Ivanović as well as actor Sergej Trifunovićwho is known to the local public for political activism and sharp criticism on account representative of the Government of Serbia.

The conflict situation here is largely based on the comments posted on Twitter. We will highlight Ivan Ivanovic as a participant in the conflict who will, due to his statement that the New Day of N1 Television will be responsible to the Agency for High-Technology Crime].

His comment was presented as hate speech with calls for lynching, coup and direct insults. In his comment, what can be said to be insulting is the opinion that Barbara is not a journalist and that all honorable and honest journalists should do the same thing as he, to publicly state that Barbara is not a journalist.

However, publishing comments on social networks is a two-edged sword. The pronouns must be clear,precise in order to avoid the possibility of multifaceted interpretation. In this sense, the publication of Ivanovic is exclusively the expression of a personal stance that is not supported by clear facts. That’s why the comment was seen as a kind of insulting journalist Barbara. Public figures with hundreds of thousands of followers must be cautious when it comes to comments posted on their profiles, and controversial comments that insult or promote violence should be suspended. Administering such profiles is demanding and takes a lot of time.

The same opinion regarding the reporting of Study B on the protest was publicly condemned by Srđan Škoro, a journalist who believes that the reporting of this article is”rape of the truth”, which was spoken as a guest on TV Prva. The number of public figures that agrees with Ivan Ivanovic is not negligible.The actor Sergei Trifunovic presented personal insults to the account of journalist Barbara. Trifunovic is known to the public in sharp tongue and rude words. Let us not forget that written verbal insults are a form of violence. We will understand his resentment on the grounds that the conflict with government officials on a daily basis has become a long-standing practice. The consequences of such behavior are borne by the cancellation of theater performances as well as business engagements, and his anger deserves understanding. As Lord Buddha says nothing grows without a reason. So in this case, we have a situation that has escalated the verbal conflict to the extent that the journalist Barbara has become a victim of verbal violence and numerous threats. Let’s go back to the controversial report to understand why one journalist and one actor came to the pillar of shame.

The reporting structure has several flaws, among which the primary failure to answer five press questions; who, what, where, when and how with the system reversed the pyramid- according to which the main focus is on what is most important at the event being monitored. The report did not contain any concrete facts, but the personal assessments and personal statements experience and observation at the expense of being watched. Making personal opinions in this form of media reporting is not practiced because personal attitudes interfere with the concept of objective reporting.

The conference, which took place on the day after the protester of the journalist Pancevo, skillfully used the comments published primarily by the followers of Sergej Trifunovic andI van Ivanovic, presenting them to the President of Serbia as theirs. This journalistic question can be understood and accepted in the context of the defense of a journalist who suffered public verbal torture due to unprofessional work.

The president stood in the defense of Barbara Životić, assessing her work as correct and that insults and threats to journalists were unacceptable. We will consider the statement of the president as correct because he defends media workers and does not allow hate speech that would even hindered free media coverage in Serbia. The day after the press conference the president AleksandarVučić condemns attacks on several journalists, Biljana Smajlović, Veran Matić but not Ivan Ivanović, who was also beaten by the post of TV published on the account of  Studio B television. It is clear that the president is trying to defend journalists against whom violence has been committed over a specific period of time. The Case Study Report B, as he acknowledged, learned during a press conference. It is indisputable that in public speeches, it refers to the freedom of the media, which is an important pillar of every democratic society.

However, reporting,especially television with national frequency shows an uncompromising affection for the ruling structures in the country, as discussed in the panel discussion USAID worked in 2017. At that occasion, participants in the discussion came to a common conclusion that media in Serbia expects serious work on the establishment of objective, impartial editorial politics. Chapter 23, which Serbia expects to guarantee human rights, among other things, obliges Serbia to a greater media freedom.

President Vucic emphasizes the importance of introducing European standards with the goal of Serbia’s accession to the European Union, which also means meeting the standards when media freedom is in question. The case of journalist Barbara Životić by those who condemned the lack of professionalism in the reporting issued a lack of journalist experience and did not prevent their followers  from brutally insulting and threatening Barbara.

Although both Ivan Ivanovic and Sergei Trifunovic are angry, it is considered that they show negative emotions in the public space is inappropriate and presents a certain psychological weakness of those who are prone to such emotions. These emotions were so strong that the consequence of the affair was such that the real problem was presented in the wrong way. None of the actors at the time of the incident paid attention to what reaction they had in their own words caused many readers whose comments were full of hate speech in the glimpse into the essence of the problem.

Experience has shown that if a problem is pointed to the President of Serbia, supported with the arguments stipulated by the higher and lower legal acts of the Republic of Serbia, the complaints come with full attention and respect. If the problem of reporting Studio B was presented without offense and insulting already peacefully with the presentation of arguments his solution would be completely different. We assume that Studio B would at least have to apologize to the citizens of Serbia because of the huge lack of reporting. Paul Ekman explained the mode of action of emotional triggers in the book Disclosed Emotion,  Anger results in anger. If the problem was presented in a peaceful and dignified way, its solution would be favorable to all conflicting parties in the conflict.

There are many questions that were not raised during the conflict:

  • Did the public of Serbia be deprived of objective media coverage?
  • Has the clumsiness of administering a twitter account contributed to presenting the key problem in the right way?
  • Are anger and anxiety adequate psychological conditions for making comments related to social problems?
  • Is the defense of a journalist at the same time the defense of all media workers in the country?
  • Is this defense of journalists at the same time a defense of the freedom of the media in Serbia?
  • Does Serbia really work to introduce standards that will contribute to the country’s entry into the European Union, among other things, media freedom?

The presented conflict situation is the result of ignorance regarding editorial policy of the media, wrong way in which certain actors pointed to the problem with indirect threats and insults. This way they allowed their Twitter profiles to be filed with brutal insults and threats from followers even they dictated extremely correct view that journalistic reporting was not in the spirit of professionalism. The absence of arguments is the reason that the real big problem is discredited.Not referring to the journalistic code as well as a set of media laws that clearly specify the way media coverage is another in a series of failures that transformed a good attitude into a bad one.

[1] News on the opening of new negotiating chapters published on the NGO website  YUKOM, SITE DRAWN UP TO DAY , 16/12/18

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