Serbia: Interior Minister demands compensation for media ‘defamation’

Source: BalkanInsight

Serbian interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic asked a Belgrade court to order news magazine NIN to pay compensation over an article saying he should take the blame for controversial demolitions in the city’s Savamala district.

Serbian Minister Demands Payout for Media

By Natalia Zaba | BIRN Belgrade At a hearing at Belgrade’s Higher Court on Tuesday, interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic demanded 300,000 dinars (2,437 euros) in compensation after bringing a defamation case against NIN journalist Sandra Petrusic, editor-in-chief Milan Culibrk and the weekly news magazine itself.Stefanovic said he was entitled to the compensation because of the damage to his career and personal reputation caused by Petrusic’s article accusing him of being responsible for the interior ministry and police’s failure to act during nocturnal demolitions carried out by masked men in Belgrade’s Savamala district in April this year."I do not dispute the right to thought and to the expression of opinions, but the text says that I directly assisted in the commission of the offence, which is in itself a criminal offence," Stefanovic said.In his law suit, which he filed as a private individual, Stefanovic claimed that the article published on the front page of NIN under the title "Nebojsa Stefanovic, the Phantom of Savamala", damaged his personal and professional honour and his reputation.He further claimed that NIN, journalist Stefanovic and editor Culibrk violated the presumption of innocence by publishing false information that was not proved in the story, thus breaching the law on public information and contravening the public interest.Culibrk said that the report, published in June this year, was not intended to slur anyone, but to urge the authorities to take responsibility for failing to resolve the case.Patrusic insisted meanwhile that the article and headline were not intended to say that Stefanovic demolished the buildings in Savamala, but to point out that although he made public statements on investigations in other cases at the time, he went ‘missing’ from the media when it came to the demolitions.The article said that the demolitions involved the cooperation of state institutions and that they would not have been possible without the "knowledge and help" of the interior minister, who is responsible for the police.Ahead of the hearing, Petrusic also noted that the Serbian Ombudsman also claimed that police were complicit in failing to stop about 30 masked men knocking down the buildings on the night of April 24 in an area where a huge new government-backed complex is to be built."The police didn’t come, it was a fully orchestrated police failure, and it was clearly confirmed in the Ombudsman’s report," Patrusic told BIRN.The demolitions were seen by critics as a move by the authorities to clear the ground quickly for the showpiece Belgrade Waterfront project.On June 8, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic admitted that senior city officials were behind the demolitions, which sparked a series of protests in Belgrade.Just before Tuesday’s hearing started, a group of Stefanovic’s supporters destroyed a banner with the slogan "Say no to the government’s terror" which was being held up by Petrusic and supporters of NIN who had gathered in front of the court. Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic said meanwhile that his deputy, Robert Sepi, was prevented from attending the hearing by the court’s security officers."The Deputy Ombudsman, the government official for defending human rights elected by the National Assembly, was prevented by the Higher Court’s security from following the NIN trial," Jankovic wrote on Twitter.Stefanovic has said that if he wins the case, he will give the money to the families of deceased police officers.The court is due to deliver its verdict in the next 30 days.