Women journalists, politicians, and public figures face inordinate abuse online, of which their male counterparts receive only a fraction. Ana’s story demonstrates how online gender-based violence is becoming almost inevitable for women in the public eye who are simply doing their jobs. It is reflective of the wider situation in Serbia, where there has been a notable increase in attacks on journalists, both physical and verbal, online and offline.
The press in Serbia is polarized: in one camp there are the pro-government media outlets that rely on the Government for funding, and on the other there are independent outlets, like Nova.rs. Attacks such as the one on Lalic are increasingly common against women working as journalists for independent media outlets, particularly as a result of critical reporting on the government.
In April 2020, Ana Lalic, a Serbian journalist working for Nova.rs, wrote an article in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis about the chaotic conditions in a hospital in Serbia. In her article, Lalic stated that the clinic did not have enough medication and that several nurses were already potentially infected with the virus, due to a lack of adequate personal protective equipment. The article itself was not controversial as such, it was an anonymous confession of hospital employees who feared for their safety. These employees remained unnamed, as hospital workers were forbidden from speaking to the media.
Vilified for speaking the truth
In response to the article, the hospital issued a denial and reported Lalic to the police. The police searched Lalic’s flat, arrested her, and detained and interrogated her overnight on the grounds that she was disseminating false information and instigating panic. Her laptop and mobile phones were seized and not immediately returned upon her release the following day. Outside of detention, Lalic faced hundreds of threats via Facebook and Facebook Messenger, including rape and death threats, with her attackers vilifying her as a traitor to the country.
Lasting psychological impacts
A year on from the arrest, Lalic admitted that she still suffers mild PTSD due to the severe threats and abuse she received in the aftermath..
In 2021, Ana received the ‘Journalist of the Year’ award from the Vojvodina Society of Independent Journalists for defending the public’s right to be informed about the coronavirus uncompromisingly.
- Pen to Paper Research
- Serbian reporter Ana Lalić on her arrest and detention over COVID-19 report - Committee to Protect Journalists (cpj.org)