Stevan Dojčinović Accepts ICFJ's Knight International Journalism Award

I’d like to thank ICFJ for this recognition and for all their great work. I am also grateful to my home news organizations, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, where I am an editor, and KRIK, which I founded in Belgrade. 

Many in the United States were shocked by the victory of Donald Trump, the Brexit turmoil, and the rise of populism, extremism and nationalism around the world. 

In Serbia and the countries in the shadow of Russia, we got a head start. I’ve been reporting on it in my country for decades. Finally, Eastern Europe does something first.

My country is a good case study for understanding how autocrats can take over a democracy.

  • The first step is that you must undermine the media.
  • Then you bribe other political parties, subvert the rule of law and take over private businesses.
  • Eventually, you make a deal with organized crime groups and accept their money. 
  • You change the laws to make corruption legal.
  • You use the mass media to manipulate the people ... and you destroy any journalist, judge, prosecutor or activist who gets in your way.
  • You create “enemies of the state.”
  • You create scandals to distract people – so that they focus on everything but what you are doing.
  • When you finally lose the public support, which eventually happens because you are stealing all their money, you attack your neighbors and appeal to their nationalism!

All of this happened in my country because democracy is very weak in Serbia.... But it could happen here as well.

In my part of the world, quality journalism is the last defender of democracy. The good prosecutors and police were fired and now justice is political in Serbia.  We journalists are the last threat to organized crime and corruption. And the nail that sticks up, gets pounded down hardest.

  • The government is suing us.
  • It makes us pay seemingly random tax bills.
  • It follows us with intelligence agents and publishes fake stories in pro-government media about us.
  • It even created a fake network of investigative reporters – who seem to only investigate us and other so-called enemies of the state.

KRIK team members are now under court proceedings. Threats have been sent to our newsroom. The homes of two of our reporters were broken into, and we have been targets of surveillance by the secret service. They published lies about me on the front pages of leading media.

But, still, we are the lucky ones. Our colleague Khadija Ismailova was jailed in Azerbaijan on fake charges. Our colleague from Slovakia, Jan Kuciak, was murdered with his fiancée.

It feels like, it has never been as hard as today to tell the truth.

They may have all the money and power, but we are holding our own. Our readership is engaged and active.  People are protesting. We survive because we work hard and are efficient. But in the long run it’s not going to work!

Continued harassments, reporters under tremendous amounts of stress and lack of financial means are not something we can bear for much longer.

So, what should we do?

First, media around the world need to collaborate more.  It is essential for journalists to make cross-border alliances. It’s the same thing organized crime and undemocratic leaders do – they team up against the people. We team up against corruption and organized crime.  It’s cheaper and faster. And it helps you to get the truth better. 

We need global cooperation. You have found out you cannot do stories on American politics without understanding Russia and now Ukraine.

Next, the media industry has to develop more effective tools for raising money. Investigative reporting is a public service and we have to pay for it as a public service. This means either by contributions from the people or some national public investigative reporting fund.

We have to grow a new industry. In our part of the world we need to grow it in a very hostile environment.  

If we fail, you will fail.  We are in the same boat. 

We offer our help and maybe together we can claw back the truth for the people.

Thank you.