BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia’s defense minister faced dismissal on Monday after remarking to a crouching female reporter, “I love these journalists who kneel so easily.”
The comment by Bratislav Gasic was met with a storm of criticism in the Balkan country.
The reporter’s employer, B92, said the comment was not just ‘sexist’ but expressed “a clear political stance”.
“He made clear in what position journalists are personally acceptable to him, to his ministry and the government of which he is a member. They are more acceptable when kneeling before the executive power.”
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Gasic, a senior party colleague, “cannot remain the defense minister after such an insult,” without specifying whether he had already taken the decision to fire him or request his resignation.
Gasic’s removal was unlikely to affect the stability of Serbia’s ruling coalition, but the scandal immediately raised fresh questions about the government’s attitude toward journalists.
Gasic made the remark, using the feminine form of the Serbian word for ‘journalist’, as he approached a group of reporters to make a statement in the central Serbian town of Trstenik. One female journalist from Television B92 had knelt to allow the cameramen to film.
Gasic later apologized, saying he was “sincerely” sorry for his “shameful and scandalous behavior”.
But Vucic told reporters: “There is no excuse for what Gasic did. It is good he apologized, but that’s not enough.”
Critics of Vucic’s government say it has done little to improve media freedom and freedom of expression in Serbia, a former Yugoslav republic about to begin talks on joining the European Union.
Vucic was an ultra-nationalist during the wars of Yugoslavia’s collapse in the 1990s and a former information minister who oversaw draconian media legislation designed to muzzle criticism of authorities under late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
He has since rebranded himself as a pro-Western reformer.
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Andrew Heavens