July 12, 2022
A 11 – The Initiative for Economic and Social Rights informs the public that the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality issued an opinion with recommendation no. 07-00-72/2022-02 establishing that the daily newspaper “Danas” and Marko Vidojković harassed, humiliated, and violated dignity of members of the Roma national minority by publishing the article “Paradise in Vuka Vrčevića Street” on February 22, 2022, contrary to the provisions of Article 12 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination.
The opinion and recommendation was passed following the complaint filed to the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality by the Vojvodina Roma Center, the association “Stand Up Roma” from Novi Sad and the Initiative A 11.
In her opinion, the Commissioner found that the statements provided by the author of the column, claiming that the Roma tradition is to build cardboard settlements, stone firefighters and beg for money, as well as pickpocket and use drugs, represent a form of discrimination prohibited under Article 12 of the Law, because they spread the usual negative stereotypes and prejudices against the Roma. Furthermore, it is stated in the opinion that it is unclear what kind of criticism of political Roma-related decisions and decision-makers the author presents by stating that such actions represent centuries-old tradition of the Roma. At the end, the Commissioner stressed that such discriminatory statements have a particular weight since the author of the column is a public figure, and the daily newspaper “Danas” is among the most widely circulated daily newspapers in Serbia.
In her opinion, the Commissioner reiterated that insulting speech based on a personal characteristic towards a certain group constitutes per se making a difference in relation to others who are not the subject of such insults. The Commissioner clarified to the daily newspaper “Danas” that there is no violation of the right of defence in this procedure, as this authority issued a warning to the public in accordance with Article 33 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination.
In an extensive response to the complaint, the daily “Danas” stated, inter alia, that the column, pleaded to shed light on an important social phenomenon through exaggeration and shocking description. Moreover, the daily newspaper “Danas” pointed out that all complaints contain formal deficiencies, suggesting that the matter should not be viewed through the lens of the “Spanish Inquisition”, and that it is especially dangerous to irresponsibly refer to Article 13 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, because in that way the daily “Danas” and Marko Vidojković are being accused of serious forms of discrimination without any evidence.
In relation to the complaint filed by the Initiative A 11, the daily “Danas” pointed out that there is “a reason to doubt in its benevolence and comprehensiveness”.
At the end, Marko Vidojković, the author of the column, also sent a statement in which he pointed out that he has been working for years to protect vulnerable social and national groups, that hue and cry were raised against him due to the published text, that it is clear to him that not everyone can understand the text he wrote, and that one hundred and forty published works in the catalog of the National Library of Serbia give him the right to freely choose how to approach a certain topic.
The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality has set a 30-days deadline in which it is necessary for the daily newspaper “Danas” and Marko Vidojković to meet with the complainants in order to learn more about the challenges faced by the Roma population. Also, the Commissioner sent a recommendation to the daily newspaper “Danas” and Marko Vidojković to refrain from publishing content that insults the dignity of Roma men and women in the future.
Bearing in mind that at the end of March 2022, the Complaint Mechanism of the Press Council failed to decide whether the Code of Journalists of Serbia was violated by the said column, which the daily newspaper “Danas” referred to in its response to the complaints , the Initiative A 11 will initiate contacts with the Press Council in the following period in order to contribute to the discussion on the understanding of the position of Roma man and women and their media representation.