MDI at the first SEE Media and Disability Conference

Dates: 4-5 December 2015

Region: South-East Europe

Screen_Shot_2015-12-13_at_09.26.32‘However the media in the region portray our community, media are not first to blame, but the state, the educators and religious leaders. The media is the reflection of doings or non-doings by these three,’ said Dragisa Sikimic, Chief Editor of, an online magazine in Bosnia and Herzegovina describing how most of the media in the Western Balkans report on people with disabilities.

At the first regional conference on the topic, held in Belgrade on 4 – 5 December, MDI Western Balkans Executive Director Ivana Jelaca focused on good practices by the media and CSOs across the world.

‘The role of media in democratic societies should always go into two directions: to be a watchdog of governments and their initiatives and to give a voice to citizens by including them in all debates relevant to their lives’, said Jelaca. ‘But, that’s not enough. Without CSOs representing those citizens, in this case, people with disabilities, journalists would have difficulties finding the right heroes and right stories. The cooperation between the two is crucial if we are to put in practice ‘the participatory democracy’.

The regional conference was organised by the Central European Initiative, International Academy and the South East European Media Organisation (Vienna).

Screen_Shot_2015-12-13_at_09.25.59‘Inclusion of people with disabilities is impossible without their inclusion by the media’, said Sasha Mirkovic, Serbian State secretary for information opening the event. Radomir Licina, Chief Editor of Serbian Daily Danas insisted that only by pressure on political decision makers the status and socio-economic situation of people with disabilities could change.

As one of the examples of persisting prejudice and stigma towards people with disabilities, Nemanja Dinvic, Advisor to the International Academy, mentioned difficulties they have when they try to rent accommodation. He said that landlords in Belgrade are reluctant to have people with disabilities as tenants. Also, only 42 out of 2000 public transport stops in Belgrade have ramps for people with disabilities.

‘The problem is citizens’ lack of knowledge of this particular group’ said Milan Dobricic from Serbian public TV who edits and anchors ‘Place for us’, the magazine about people with disabilities. ‘They are usually portrayed either with pity or by emphasising their achievements despite their disability.

‘Stress the ability rather than the disability’ said Snezana Nikolic from ‘Milan Petrovic’ primary school. The panellists highlighted the need to hire people with disability in the media, not only to cover people like themselves but to report on other people and issues, such as art, culture or sport.

‘In this kind of media environment, it is difficult to talk about the issues such as sexuality of people with disabilities or violence towards the women with disabilities’, said Smiljana Milinkov from the Media Studies Department at the University in Novi Sad.

Panellists also discussed the lack of skills of civil society to cooperate with the media in more proactive way and motivate journalists to report on their activities.

‘The conference is a good start, but far from enough. A comprehensive and coordinated work by committed stakeholders – the Government primarily, but also the media industry, media educators and the CSO – is what can bring needed changes’, said MDI Executive Director Milica Pesic.

Sadly, once the Government representative recorded welcome message was heard, all journalists except 3 left the conference not recognising the need to be participants rather than only to report from the event. Only one newspaper in Serbia published a news about the event and issues concerning their fellow citizens – people with disabilities.