Kantar exerts constant and increasing pressure on OkRadio for several months because it opposes its plan to build an illegal gambling hall that would encroach on the building that houses the radio.
“Threats against OkRadioRSF staff are very worried and are hampering the work of their journalists, deplores Pavol Szalai, head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans office. “As per our April 2022 recommendations, we call on the Serbian authorities to take measures to improve the safety of journalists. It is urgent to restore a safe environment for the journalists of this radio so that they can resume their work normally. Freedom of the press must not be gagged by fear.
OkRadio is a well-established radio station that broadcasts local news. Most of its funding comes from revenue from a cafe called the No Comment Caffe which is attached to the radio station. In March, OkRadio owner Olivera Vladkovic Told the police, she received phone threats from Kantar. Then, the cafe was ransacked in early June.
Kantar began construction of his illegal gambling hall on June 6, walling radio windows. Representatives of journalists’ associations to the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists – one entity established by the Serbian government in 2020 to respond more effectively to attacks on journalists – visited Vranje on 15 June and expressed their support for OkRadio and Vladkovic. Kantar went to the No Comment Caffe and repeated his threats on June 16. He was arrested the same day.
Harassment by the strongman took various forms, from threatening phone calls to smashing cafe windows. He even sent one of his men to the café with a telephone on which Kantar could be heard shouting threats against the radio journalists.
Kantar’s incarceration has not stopped him from continuing his threats. At the end of June, he targeted Veran Maticmember of the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists, through fake arrest warrants posted on the streets of Vranje accusing Matic of destroying the city.
Kantar himself continued to threaten journalists during his court appearance, while his friends and associates gathered outside wearing T-shirts with the words “Vucic help us” – a reference to Serbia’s president – and carrying signs that read “Justice for Kantar”, suggesting he is a victim. After the hearing, OkRadioJournalists have publicly stated that they do not feel safe.
Kantar is both extremely influential and feared in the region. A local court ordered the destruction of the wall erected in front of OkRadio, but no builder is willing to carry out the work for fear of reprisals from Kantar. Two employees left OkRadio because they felt in danger. Other Serbian media are also reluctant to cover this case for the same reasons.
As the inability of the No Comment Caffe to continue operating has deprived OkRadio from its main source of funding, the Association of Independent Electronic Media has launched a fundraiser for radio.
Serbia is ranked 79th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 ranking World Press Freedom Index.