Short Legal Review on Media Disputes in Serbia
Violation of the presumption of innocence and other rights of the accused by the media
The right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a final court decision is prescribed in the most important international and domestic documents.
It also includes a request for compliance with this presumption by state and other bodies and organizations, the media, associations and public figures, whose statements may violate this right of the defendant.
However, the right to public information and media freedom are important achievements of a democratic society.
The right of citizens to public information is prescribed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia (“Official Gazette of RS“, No. 98/2006) in Art. 51, and it is especially regulated by the Law on Public Information and Media (“Official Gazette of RS“, No. 83/2014, 58/2015 and 12/2016 – authentic interpretation, the “Law“).
Article 15, paragraph 1, item 1 of the Law prescribes, among other things, that the public interest in the field of public information includes, above all, true, impartial, timely and complete information of all citizens of the Republic of Serbia.
The presumption of innocence is most often violated by the media by publishing difficult qualifications at the expense of defendants whose guilt has not yet been proven. It also happens that the media invent someone’s guilt without any grounds.
The continuous violation of the presumption of innocence of the accused creates a justified fear that his right to a fair trial will be violated. All because the media in the public create a belief in the guilt of the accused, so the question arises whether the acting judges in the criminal procedure will be able to resist the pressure of the public and pass a valid verdict.
In addition to violating the presumption of innocence, the media violate the right to privacy of personal records provided for in Article 80 of the Law by publishing photographs in which the defendant is recognizable, without meeting the special conditions of Article 82 of the Law.
Furthermore, according to Article 79 of the Law, publishing information that violates honor, reputation or piety, ie a person portrays in a false light by attributing traits or properties that he does not have, or waiving the traits or properties that he has, is not allowed if interest in publishing information does not prevail. over the interest in protecting dignity and the right to authenticity, and especially if it does not contribute to the public debate about the phenomenon, event or person to whom the information relates.
False and incomplete allegations published by the media violate the rights related to the dignity of the person from the above article. In this way, the defendant is inflicted non-pecuniary damage in the form of mental pain suffered.
Having in mind all the above, it is necessary to strengthen the mechanisms that will prevent the leakage of data on the investigation and the course of criminal proceedings. This would, without a doubt, affect the quality of media coverage of police actions and court proceedings.
When reporting on crimes, the work of police and judicial bodies, the media are obliged to take care that the public receives all relevant information, but also to protect basic human rights, including the right to a fair trial and the protection of the presumption of innocence.