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Dragan Vukotic – We Need to Remember the Founding Principle of Journalism - Facts are Sacred and Comments are Free

Journalist at Serbia’s leading daily newspaper Politika discusses interest in US politics, culture and society

Dragan Vukotic in conversation at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)

Oscar Tollast | 05.01.2018

Dragan Vukotic has always been quite curious about American studies. His decision to attend the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association - Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration - was prompted by a desire to widen his knowledge about US culture, politics and society.

In his position as head of the foreign desk at Serbia’s leading daily newspaper Politika, his curiosity with the US has played to his advantage. During the 2016 US presidential election, Vukotic was tasked with explaining the events to Serbian readers. Based in the US, he spoke to some experts to provide further clarity.

Speaking at Salzburg Global, Vukotic says, “I’m pretty much interested in the division in American society, especially in the aspect of media because that’s my background... What strikes me is that the American media are so divided that you must choose: are you left-wing media or are you right-wing media?”

Vukotic suggested there was little common ground between each faction and the situation reminded him of something he had witnessed in Serbia, “where a division is so strong that you, for example, cannot be a voter for some party from the left and, at the same time, say something good about some aspect of politics from the right, which is not a good thing.” He adds, “I think that we need to remember the founding principle of journalism that facts are sacred and comments are free.”

The 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association set out to explore topics such as racial issues, immigration, populism, wealth, media, legal rights, civil rights, and criminal law. Vukotic doesn’t believe there’s one pressing issue deserving of everyone's attention, but a combination. He called for the US to focus more on bridging existing divides and to prevent the social fabric from being torn apart.

In addition to the US and Serbia, Vukotic has reported from China, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Armenia. He is a regular contributor for several Serbian and Balkan regional radio and TV stations.

In 2017, one term that was difficult to ignore was “fake news,” defined by Collins Dictionary as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” Less than two months after Vukotic spoke to Salzburg Global, Collins Dictionary named it as their official World of the Year.

Fake news is something Vukotic has experienced in Serbia. He says, “I’m a big fan of social media and all that stuff. You can read a lot of good things on Twitter and on Facebook, but those [mediums], which are [mediums] of course, helped a lot in producing fake news. One can just imagine some fake news, give it an inflammatory title, put it online, and in the course of 10 minutes, or a day, a million people will share it. It’s a dangerous trend for journalism.”

Vukotic first joined Politika as a reporter at the metro desk in October 2007. He wanted to be a journalist because he saw it as a “free profession.” He says, “You’re free to move from one place to another to talk to interesting people. It’s actually a really common profession, but you have an opportunity to talk with some uncommon people. So, that’s a privilege, and at some point in your career, you realize that journalism actually has a really big impact on society. So, that’s a really big privilege but also more challenging and a big responsibility.”

Speaking on the second day of the symposium, Vukotic confirmed he had already been left inspired by a presentation given by Elaine Tyler May, Regents professor of American studies and history, and chair of the Department of History, at the University of Minnesota. Her talk was titled, “The American Dream and the Quest for Security - the Promise and the Perils.”

Vukotic says, “She raised the questions about causes of the processes, not consequences. That’s what I’m interested in as a journalist, just to try to figure out what’s the main cause for what’s going on. We all know who [Donald] Trump is, all about his hair, his messy remarks, and everything, but we need to be more focused more on which trends led to his election.”

Dragan Vukotic was a participant of the Salzburg Global session Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

Oscar Tollast