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RFE/RL Journalist in Serbia Wins Investigative Journalism Award

RFE/RL Balkan Service journalist Milan Nešić (right) receives an Award for Excellence in Investigative Journalism at a ceremony in Belgrade, Serbia, on May 8, 2018.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Balkan Service journalist Milan Nešić has received the prestigious Award for Excellence in Investigative Journalism from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) for his story about embezzlement in the construction industry in Belgrade.

The award recognizes Nešić’s investigative story titled Phantom Builders of Belgrade, which chronicles the illegal construction of a six-story building in the Belgrade district of Vozdovac. The area has seen a stream of investors who, apparently unknown to the authorities, are buying up old houses and replacing them with illegal skyscrapers. Government officials, after being confronted by Nešić’s reporting, pledged to halt construction by the end of 2017, but he says no progress has been made. “This award is a confirmation of hard work,” he said. “Sadly, nothing changed, but we still keep moving forward.”

U.S. Ambassador Kyle Scott, who attended the May 8 ceremony in Belgrade, told the audience, “Energetic and free media are like a ray of sunshine cleaning a democratic society of corruptive and immoderate acts by the authorities.” NUNS President Slavisa Lekic warned that it isn’t easy being a journalist in Serbia, “in a society dominated by the virus of fear.”

Nešić says he received anonymous emails while producing the report pressuring him to quit the investigation.

The report, which won in the Electronic Media category, was first released as a two-part radio series before being published online in article form.

Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2017 report lists Serbia among one of the countries that suffered the largest declines in press freedom. Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index ranks the country in 76th place out of 180 countries -- ten places below its 2017 score.

With over 3,000 members, NUNS aims to protect journalists, and promote professional and ethical media standards, as well as cooperation among journalists in Serbia. In their 30th year, the NUNS annual awards, supported by the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, recognize brave journalists in the categories of Electronic Media, Online Media, and Press. This year’s awards received over 100 submissions from some 50 journalists.