First of all, I would like to thank the Faculty of Drama Arts and the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia for hosting this afternoon’s event. As a strong supporter of a free press, the U.S. Embassy is proud to sponsor for the thirteenth consecutive year the NUNS Awards for Excellence in Investigative Journalism. This is an award by Serbian journalists, for Serbian journalists. We applaud NUNS’ sustained efforts to secure a free and independent media in Serbia, and to promote the rights of Serbian journalists.
In recognition of how important a free press is in democratic societies, the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote that “When [freedom of speech] is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.” Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, put it this way: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press.”
A hardy, questioning free press is the sunlight that disinfects a democratic society from government corruption and excess. That is why the United States Embassy supports these awards. We believe free speech is important. And like many in this room, we are concerned about the state of media freedom around the world, including here in Serbia.
Freedom House’s 2018 report said that freedom for Serbian media was decreasing. Serbia was the only country in the region which was designated as having a downward trend in democracy. Amnesty International’s 2017/2018 report on Serbia said that investigative journalists were subjected to smear campaigns by ministers and media close to the government. The portion of the Human Rights Watch report dedicated to Serbian media noted that attacks on journalists continue, responsible governmental institutions failed to respond appropriately, and several cases of murdered journalists have yet to be resolved – in some cases, after many years.
In March of this year, the Open Society Institute – Sofia released its Media Literacy Index for Europe. Serbia ranked 29th of 35 countries in media literacy and last in Eurostat’s “Trust in Others” ranking — a ranking designed to indicate social cohesion and predict resilience and resistance to “fake news” stories.
So, the investigative journalists we honor this afternoon must overcome multiple barriers to create high-quality reporting. It is not easy to make a living as a journalist in Serbia. It’s even tougher if you take on entrenched interests. I’d like to express my gratitude to all those who persist despite these challenges, sometimes at considerable personal risk, in the difficult and demanding task of researching and reporting stories that the Serbian public needs. Your efforts help to make democracy work, and make Serbia a better place to live.
Thank you, and I congratulate in advance all those who have been nominated for this prestigious award.