The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić was a guest in the show “Dan uzivo“ on TV N1.

I will talk to the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, about the exit of journalist associations from the Government's working group for the safety of journalists after linking the KRIK portal with Veljko Belivuk. Mr. Pašalić, good afternoon! Thank you for being here! You are someone who started this working group. How do you comment on the exit of journalist associations from it?

I have to correct you. I never started that working group. We launched a platform to record every kind of...

But the working group was launched on your initiative, that's what I wanted to say.

No, on our initiative, after three years of very hard work, a platform was created, which was signed by 10 organizations, 7 associations and 3 unions, and on which every kind of pressure, attack, discrediting, and every other kind of obstruction of journalists in doing their job should be recorded. That is what came from the Protector of Citizens.

All right, but you didn't answer my question.

No one has stepped out of our platform, as it is practically called and as it is better known to the public, as far as I know, to this day.

All right, but you're a member of the working group, if I'm not mistaken.

That's right. I am a member of the Working Group with others who are in that working group.

All right. Can you then answer the question that I asked you, which is, how do you view the fact that certain journalist associations have decided to leave that working group of the Government?

Everyone has the right to participate in a job or leave it, even in the working group that you are talking about. What is most important from the aspect of the Protector of Citizens is that the platform that I am talking about works. A lot of effort has been invested in it, to form it as such, with seven groups of attacks on journalists and 47 subgroups, so that all journalist associations and the three unions I listed, can enter their data into the platform.

Your unique platform collects all reports of attacks on journalists, but can it protect journalists? It can’t. That's why I'm asking you...

You asked the question, you answered it.

All right, can the platform protect journalists?

It certainly can, because on that platform there are records of what can be considered an attack in terms of a crime, or a pressure, which is practically a job of the courts, in the sense of an insult. And the most important thing are the records themselves, from which you can see exactly who, how many times and in what way prevented journalists from doing their job. Okay. And what is the role of the working group which you are a member of?

The role of the working group is to protect journalists, that is its basic role, from any kind of attack. You know that an SOS line has been introduced which journalists can use. So far, the group has established some, as far as I understand, organizational principles for further and long-term activities.

If the working group of the government protects journalists, Mr. Pašalić, why didn't you, as a member of that working group, support the KRIK portal and the journalists of that portal when the pro-government tabloids linked them to Veljko Belivuk?

You see, what I learned from the media, when talking specifically about the KRIK portal, does not belong to the domain of the protection of citizens, but the domain of the prosecution, that is, if their security is endangered, then it is a job for the police and the prosecution. If someone interpreted it as an insult or slander, as I just said, that is a matter for the court. The most important thing in all this is for the Protector of Citizens to make a statement...

So why didn’t you?

Let me finish, please, …by which he would condemn that or say something else. But as you and the public know, that is not the road I follow. I do not need either personal affirmation or affirmation of the Institution, as it may have been in earlier times. I don't need to make a statement in all this in order to gain media popularity, but to finish the job I started two and a half years ago, which is to unite, on a common platform, records of all attacks on journalists that have been recorded by the UNS and NUNS so far, and those from the permanent working group that takes care of the safety of journalists, where criminal acts that have occurred or been adjudicated, or those that are in the proceedings, are recorded. It is necessary to consolidate all that. The most important thing is, and I have heard that many times both here and from media representatives from abroad, that there is no single platform, and that the existing platforms differ in many ways. What my goal was and what I will bring to an end, certainly with the support and primarily with a great effort of journalist associations and the three unions that I said belong to the group of 10 signatories of the platform, is the essence of our actions. And that is to really yield some results. If all journalist associations or most of them think that the Protector of Citizens is an institution that should put on that platform what is considered an attack on journalists, given that they are now entering that information, I will wholeheartedly accept that.

Okay. I am just not sure, the part about the popularity of the state institution of the Protector of Citizens that you talked about wasn't clear to me. I simply don’t understand why you, as a member of the Working Group, did not comment on the case that occurred when it comes to the KRIK portal. The editor of that portal said that he was afraid for the safety of his journalists. You don't think that deserves a reaction?

This is your answer to your own question, when you said he was afraid for the safety. When someone is afraid for their own safety, they turn to those who protect the safety of all of us, and that is the police and the prosecution. The Protector of Citizens, to explain to you what was not clear...

And what is the role of the working group?

…does not gain popularity by giving a statement, a proclamation or whatever you call it, because it does not achieve anything. Because it will happen again, which none of us want, but a similar, as you said, attack on someone's security will happen again. The goal of the Protector of Citizens, together with the ones I mentioned, is to stop such occurrences with these records.

All right, but you know that President Vučić said in his interview, when he was in Abu Dhabi, that KRIK journalists must not be touched, that is, that they should do their job freely. Well, how can the president of the state say that, and you, as the Protector of Citizens, think that it will not bring anything?

 The president of the state can say that. The Protector of Citizens moves within what he stands for the most – the platform I am talking about, which I think will bring much more than just talking about specific cases. We saw at the beginning of my mandate that this type of announcement did not affect the safety of journalists in any special way, and that is why we started creating this common platform. I repeat, so that everyone would understand, a platform that would unite all cases of pressures, attacks, discredits, attacks on security, whether their personal or that of their families.

So, you think that this record of attacks will protect journalists the best? But it seems to me that these are just records, what about prevention?

No, you are absolutely wrong. The goal of this is…

I'm not claiming I'm right; I'm asking you to explain.

… both special and general prevention. Because, you see, someone could ask you which of the existing records is complete, as they don't coincide in many ways, so you have to work on uniting them into a single record that all journalists in Serbia would stand behind, and I am not saying this colloquially, I really mean it.

What do you think about media freedom and the work and position of investigative journalists in Serbia? Should they be afraid for their safety, since, as we have heard from the editor of the KRIK portal, this is the most serious threat they have received so far. What do you think about that?

First of all, no one should be afraid in this country, be it journalists or those who perform some other activities. Secondly, in the question you asked, you mentioned investigative journalists. Who are the other journalists then? Aren't they all journalists…

I don't know why you constantly have a problem with my questions, that’s interesting to me, but I know how I am going to ask you a question.

I have no problem with the questions…

They are… they work for the portal, they are investigative journalists who work for the portal that is called like that. You have investigative journalists, you have documentary journalists, there are various divisions in journalism.

There, you answered your own question. If…

Well no. I'm explaining it to you, because it wasn't clear to you.

… you're saying that investigative journalists are the ones who need to be protected, what about the other journalists, they don't need to be protected? I consider all journalists…

Everyone should be protected. That's exactly what I'm saying.

…no matter which media they work for, regardless of whether it is a portal or some other media…

Okay, but I gave the example of people who came out in the media, who are endangered.

…they all experience attacks and are all endangered in some way. This degree of vulnerability varies from, so to speak, the most benign ones, such as going away from press conferences or simply avoiding answering questions, to those physical attacks that directly endanger the safety of their lives. So, don't divide journalists to investigative and all others. For us, all journalists perform a very important activity, an activity that gives citizens the opportunity to find out in a timely manner what interests them and all of them should be equally protected.

Well, I mentioned investigative journalists in this case because we specifically talked about the KRIK portal, because they are journalists who deal with investigative journalism. I am glad to hear that you want to protect all journalists in Serbia, so I ask you what will you do as a member of the Working Group of the Government of Serbia when it comes to protecting journalists, aside from maintaining a platform where attacks on them will be recorded.

What I have always done, and that is to try to reconcile, to bring to the same table all those who need to protect the interests of all journalists. Because that working group, as far as I understood it, deals with the protection, not of investigative journalists, but of all journalists in the Republic of Serbia. I have tried that several times, not only when it comes to journalists, but to all conflicting groups in the Republic of Serbia. Normally, outside the limits…

And in what way do you now…

…of how the law limits me, which is Article 10a of the Law on the Protection of Citizens, which says that my statements mustn’t have a political connotation…

All right. Can you do something now, certain associations have come out from the Working Group, do you think that you can be that conciliator, as you said?

I will certainly try. Exactly the thing that we now call a colloquial platform, this gathering around that unique platform, that serves to reconcile everyone, for me to try to reconcile everyone again and to continue the work, regardless of the form and under whose auspices, in order to solve the problem of the security of journalists.

The SOS line, do journalists report attacks, do you expect that after this story with the KRIK portal and the exit of journalist associations from the working group of the Government, will some of the journalists actually call that SOS phone line?

- I will check what the role of that line is, first of all whether they are answering, and then on what issues are they answering. It is the same as with the protection of citizens. The Protector of Citizens had that SOS phone line and even today there is still a possibility for citizens to call and present their problems. Only when you see what those problems are, then you can give a, let's say, general statement.

Mr. Pašalić, thank you for the time you set aside for N1 Television.

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