FEMFACTS
26 Mar 2019

Mayor shuts down press after sexual harassment accusations

Milutin Jeličić, mayor of the Serbian town of Brus, was accused of years of sexual harassment and sexual assault. When Marija Lukić, his former secretary, went on TV to tell her story, the cable provider's electricity was cut off.

Guest Mavens
Marion Dautry NewsMavens, Europe
Mayor shuts down press after sexual harassment accusations - NewsMavens
Milutin Jeličić, youtube

In Serbia, the media are usually slow to report on violence against women or they do so in a sexist and trivializing way. But many did report seriously on the sexual harassment lawsuit of Marija Lukić against Milutin Jeličić, mayor of Brus and local official of the ruling party. So the accused had them shut down. Literally.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

Marija Lukić claims that her previous boss, Brus's mayor Milutin Jeličić Jutka, sexually assaulted and harassed her for two years. She reported that he very clearly expressed to her that the only way to obtain a promotion would be to have sex with him. Among other evidence, she provided 15,000 graphic SMS he sent her, some of which include his admissions of kissing her against her will. Lukić also reported being threatened and forced into removing the screenshots from her social media profiles, by four men who told her that “her head is on the guillotine” if she doesn’t comply.  

One of the last ones before the complaint”, Marija Lukić tweeted with a screenshot of a conversation with her boss. His first message reads: “Kissseeeeez, wanting you, when will we finally get to the loviiiiiing, it’s been two years already.” The conversation continues with Lukić stating that it seemed there would be no promotion in his office without sex. To that, her former boss replied “For some there is, for some there isn’t. (...) You can get it, but you don’t want it.”  

Since then, six more women, all former employees of the municipality, claimed that they suffered the same treatment from the mayor, who was until recently also the commissioner of the municipal board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), the ruling party in the country and Brus. Milutin Jeličić denies all accusations, but he eventually announced his resignation as a mayor and froze his party membership earlier this month.

How many girls need to go through this for someone to react? This girl got in touch yesterday”, Marija Lukić published in another tweet with a picture of a conversation she had with an unknown woman saying “I worked for him for one season … I prayed to god never to be alone with him, but keep quiet I don’t want it to be known.

HOW WERE THE MEDIA PREVENTED FROM REPORTING?

Serbian media do not have a great track record when it comes to reporting on gender-based violence. They have been known to publish stories and op-eds defending sexual harassers or trivializing the testimonies and suffering of women. However, several national-wide media outlets have done serious reporting on the case of Marija Lukić.

Surprisingly, even the tabloid Kurir, usually accused of sensationalizing stories and of following the line defined by the ruling party, published articles on the accusations. But it has been hard for the public, particularly in the town of Brus, to access information.

Judge Mladen Tipsarević, presiding over the trial, decided to close it to the media. Journalists were not even allowed inside as citizens. This caused outrage and an immediate reaction from the Association of Journalists of Serbia, but the judge upheld his decision.

The daily newspaper "Blic" reported on Marija Lukić’s accusations at the end of February 2019. That day, however, its printed edition was not available in Brus, becasue all the copies that arrived in town in the early hours of the morning were immediately purchased by municipal employees. 

"Workers of communal companies came early and did not wait for the vendors to unpack the newspapers, instead they bought the whole packages. Those who wanted to get the printed edition of "Blic" had to go to [the nearby town of] Krusevac", reported the media.

On 27th of February, Marija Lukić was a guest of the show "Život priča" ("Life Stories"), broadcast on the national-wide channel Prva. But as the show was about to be aired, the cable signal was suddenly lost in the city of Brus.

Five minutes before the airing of #Životpriča, Brus experienced “a malfunction” of the cable network and the citizens can’t watch Prva TV. I hope everything is a bit clearer now”, Lukić wrote on Twitter, tagging the journalist who interviewed her.

It turned out that the electricity was manually cut in the Cultural Center that hosts the broadcasting equipment of the local cable operator City Servis. In an interview for the investigative website Raskrikavanje, the director of the company Zoran Radojković confirmed that his employees had been asked to shut down the signal.

"I cannot confirm that it was the mayor of the municipality of Brus. Let's say that it was a request 'from the street' and you know better than me who that was", he said in an interview. He added that they refused to obey but that the power was still cut in a very mysterious manner. “What can I tell you. You expect me to say it, but you know everything already”, added Radojković.

The silence of the local media was deafening and speaks loudly of self-censorship. The local portal "Stvarnost Online" has ignored the case entirely. Ironically, a section of the website is dedicated to gender equality, as a part of the government’s “awareness raising” program for which the website has received public funding. At the time when the case was already unfolding, they published an article instructing their readers to “report harassment”, but nothing on the actual sexual harassment happening in their town.

The only thing the portal has published that relates to the case, is a press release from the mayor where he accused the women who came forward of either being “politically instrumentalized” or having “mental problems”. They briefly reported on his announced resignation on March 1 -- but without mentioning the reason he was resigning. On March 14, however, the website did run a story on a staged rally, with a group of women voicing support for the now ex-mayor. The resignation was mentioned again, but also without mentioning the accusations of sexual harassment, or the ongoing trial.

The local TV channel "RTV Brus" behaved in a similar way. There is no result when one searches Marija Lukić on their website, despite the wide national coverage that the case had received. The news of the mayor's resignation was only covered through the above-mentioned women supporters' rally. The reason for his resignation is not mentioned in the text. In the video, the interviewed women accuse Marija Lukić (without naming her) of “lying against a wonderful man”.

Those media, among others who have not covered the story, have received important funding from the municipality of Brus. “Stvarnost Online”, run by the company "Old partners", obtained, for instance, a 2.6 million RSD subvention (22,000 euros) in 2017 and 2018, intended for projects about women's rights and gender equality.

The online portal "Krusevac Press" which took a deep look into the attribution of the municipality's subventions to media portals notes that "all the competitions for public interest in the area of public information in the municipality of Brus in the last three years were accompanied by various controversies, from the non-transparent appointment of commission members, the participation of municipal officials in the work of the commission, the absence of justification for accepted and rejected projects up to "hiding" information on the allocation of funds".

Watchdogs have persistently warned of the increasing attacks against journalists and the pressure exerted upon Serbian media in the last couple of years. Serbian journalists have repeatedly described a worsening situation and an atmosphere similar of the one during the '90s, when Slobodan Milošević was president and the current Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić was his minister of Information.

CONCLUSION

Milutin Jeličić has obviously never heard of the "Streisand effect" when the attempt of covering up or censoring a piece of information has the opposite effect of shedding more light upon it, particularly with the help of the Internet. The hashtag #PravdaZaMarijuLukić (Justice for Marija Lukić), that spread across social media, helped to keep the focus on the story and spread it. However, the attempt of censoring the media's reporting and the self-censorship showed by local media are a worrying sign of the deterioration of media freedom in Serbia.

inbox_large_illu Created with Sketch.
Tired of the news media’s prevailing male perspective? We are too.

Get our newsletters composed exclusively by female journalists from all over Europe.

WITH FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM:
SUPPORTED BY:

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

STRATEGIC PARTNERS:
NewsMavens
NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
Is something happening in your country that Newsmavens should cover?
CORE TEAM
Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka EDITOR IN CHIEF
Lea Berriault-Jauvin
Lea Berriault Managing Editor
Jessica Sirotin
Jessica Sirotin EDITOR
Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko EDITOR
Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora SA Czerska 8/10 00-732, Warsaw Poland
The e-mail addresses provided above are not intended for recruitment purposes. Messages concerning recruitment will be deleted immediately. Your personal data provided as part of your correspondence with Zuzanna,Lea, Jessica and Ada will be processed for the purpose of resolving the issue you contacted us about. The data provided in your email is controlled by Agora S.A. with its registered office in Warsaw Czerska 8/10 Street (00-732). You can find more information about the processing and protection of your personal data at https://newsmavens.com/transparency-policy
System.Threading.Tasks.Task`1[System.Threading.Tasks.VoidTaskResult];