The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, a group of individuals or a media outlet that spreads hate based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or other diversity categories. The Balkan Troll is selected based on hate speech incidents identified across the Western Balkans region.
The October Troll of the Month is Informer.rs, a popular tabloid in Serbia that published an interview with a serial rapist, violating several points of the Ethical Code of Journalists.
Informer.rs recently faced widespread public backlash, condemning the interview with Igor Milošević, a serial rapist who was released from prison in September. Milošević was given a large platform to speak for almost an hour. This interview was both promoted and shared on the Informer’s social media platforms such as Instagram and was framed as ‘mega exclusive’ content. The interview video was also uploaded on YouTube and despite being condemned by the Press Council, it still remains public.
According to the statement of the Press Council the interview violated several points of the Code of Journalists of Serbia: it humiliated victims of sexual harassment and assault and those who had fallen victims to Igor Milošević himself, and caused distress and harm not just to the sexual assault victims but to the public as well. Part six of the Ethical Code of Journalists of Serbia, tackles the relation to sources of information under which the eight point draws our attention to the obligation of journalists to ‘not unjustly create fear among people or instil false hopes’. Having in mind that the rapist was set free prior to the publication of this interview, it is expected that such content would instil both fear and insecurity amongst the public, but this was nonetheless, ignored.
The interview was received with strong criticism and negative sentiments amongst the public. There was an extremely widespread and loud reaction and backlash from the public who were disturbed, angry and shocked by the fact that it was taking place. This took form in a number of online and offline reactions, most predominantly a large protest which took place in front of the Informer’s editorial office. The protest was calling for both the resignation of the editor in chief as well as for accountability for their actions. The protests continued for a consecutive three weekends in a row as a display of anger by members of society.
As a result of the large public outcry, the Press Council of Serbia condemned the interview alongside a number of women’s associations who protested several times. As public pressure increased and grew over time, the Informer handed over all their recorded material to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, who reacted by re-arresting Igor Milošević on the basis of public protection. However, the video continues to be present online and has had a huge reach including over 500,000 people who have viewed the interview on Informer’s YouTube channel. The Informer has not removed the content or made any public apologies as to the commotion and distress they caused to both their readers, victims of assault and the general public.
On the contrary, the editorial office of the Informer announced that ‘ [the] Informer definitely proved that the real motive for publishing the interview was the protection of women’. It is clear from the publication of the interview alongside the lack of responsibility by the Informer, that there was little to no consideration as to the effects and consequences of releasing content as such. Moreover, there is no attention paid to the possible repercussions towards both the mental and physical safety of individuals and those who have fallen victim to sexual violence who may have been both triggered and emotionally distressed.
The Informer’s Editor in Chief defended the interview by saying that it is journalism and compared the interview to those done by some large media outlets such as BBC (referring to the BBC’s interview with one of the rapist in India who raped and killed a young girl). Although some would dispute the justification behind any interview with the rapist, there are several key differences between those done by Informer and the other done by BBC. The BBC interviewed the rapist in prison waiting for the death penalty, not the one just set free; the interview looks at the larger context and broader social issue that led to the event; and finally rapist was just one of the interviewees that BBC featured in the documentary giving him just couple of minutes. The differences show the obvious lack of professional approach and pursue for sensationalism rather than the public interest as Informer claims.
Reporting Diversity Network 2.0 continues to emphasise the importance of adhering to the Ethical Code of Journalists and abiding by professional journalistic practices. Indeed, there is nothing ‘exclusive’ about women’s fear. No individual in society should ever be exposed to any forms of threat, humiliation, or distress, be it emotional or physical. The Informer should be held accountable for their actions and publicly apologise to the citizens of Serbia and all those who were harmed by the published interview.