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Communicating Power and Resistance in Democratic Decline: The 2015 Smear Campaign against Serbia’s Ombudsman

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Media, Communication and the Struggle for Democratic Change


The chapter explores diverging implications of global democratic decline for public communication in new and old democracies. It draws on empirical evidence from a government-sponsored smear campaign against Serbia’s ombudsman between January and May 2015, including data from quantitative and qualitative analyses of print and electronic media and of Twitter content and from semi-structured interviews with key political, civil society and media actors. The analyses of the main arenas of conflict showed the prevalence of emotions and personal beliefs, as opposed to evidence, in public debates, just like in old democracies. It also revealed, however, a much broader repertoire of strategic deception and authoritarian manipulation, which resulted in sharp polarization in public discourse, systematic violations of press freedom and political competition, and a sharply declining quality of journalism.

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    If not quoted directly, interviews are coded as follows: Country code (SER = Serbia), type of interviewee (Jour = journalist, Act = civil society activist, Pol = political actor).


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Correspondence to Nebojša Vladisavljević .

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Appendix: Names and Positions of the Involved Actors

Appendix: Names and Positions of the Involved Actors

  • Saša Janković, Serbia’s ombudsman from 2007 to 2017.

  • Dragan Vučićević, the owner and editor-in-chief of Informer, a pro-government tabloid.

  • Bojana Maljević, an actress and Twitter user who supported Saša Janković.

  • Tamara Skrozza, a member of the Press Council and the Independent Journalist Association of Serbia (NUNS).

  • Željko Mitrović, the owner and CEO of Pink TV, a national private pro-government broadcaster.

  • Veselin Simonović, the head manager of Blic, a national daily.

  • Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister 2014–2017, currently the President of Serbia.

  • Marijan Rističević, a ruling coalition’s MP known for his inflammatory speeches against the opposition.

  • Nebojša Stefanović, the interior minister since 2014.

  • Bratislav Gašić, the defence minister 2014–2016.

  • Predrag Gojković, found dead in Janković’s apartment in 1993; his death was ruled a suicide.

  • Milan Antonijević, director of YUCOM, an NGO which supported Janković during the conflict.

  • Vladimir Đukanović, ruling coalition’s MP, who spoke against Janković.

  • Dragan Šutanovac, Democratic Party’s MP who supported Janković.

  • Rodoljub Šabić, the public information commissioner.

  • Dragan Popović, President of the Centre for Practical Politics, who supported Janković.

  • Vukašin Obradović, President of NUNS during the conflict.

  • Dragan Đilas, the former president of the Democratic Party, who in 2014 had to endure a smear campaign similar to the one against Janković.

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Vladisavljević, N., Krstić, A., Pavlović, J. (2019). Communicating Power and Resistance in Democratic Decline: The 2015 Smear Campaign against Serbia’s Ombudsman. In: Voltmer, K., et al. Media, Communication and the Struggle for Democratic Change. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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