As much as Britain is a contrast to Serbia, so much is the Middle East in a contrast to everything else you can imagine
He hosted a television show for the first time in his teenage years, which gave him the opportunity to later get his first job as a journalist on Panonija TV, right at the beginning of his political science studies. A scholarship from the British Government took him to the centre of England for postgraduate studies which translated into one of the most beautiful experiences for him. As he was itching to travel and at the same time have financial security, he moved to Qatar, where he worked as a flight attendant for three years. He returned to his homeland at the onset of the pandemic that “stopped the world”. Today, Igor Besermenji works as a journalist for the N1 TV station, which, as he says, is one of the most professional media outlets in Serbia.
After staying in various countries and going from destination to destination, in his interview for Diplomacy&Commerce, Igor Besermenji talks about the Serbian and global media scene.
You have been a news anchor, hosted morning programmes and political shows and conducted interviews with more than a hundred people from all walks of life. What was the situation in the media like in 2009 when you started working for Panonija TV?
My position was quite different back then because I worked for a local media outlet, Panonija TV, which soon gave me the opportunity to cover the topics that interested me the most at the tender age of 19, namely society and politics. However, the local media in Serbia have had a rather unfortunate destiny and I have witnessed the disintegration of one of them. The lack of understanding on the state’s part, but also from ordinary people, about the important local media that comprehensively cover local topics, has made me realize that we, as citizens of Serbia, do not understand what democracy actually means. Civic consciousness was then and still is at a low level. People are directed by their inertia.
However, there was much more freedom then than today. While doing the show ‘Bez Cenzure’ (‘Uncensored’), we interviewed people in power and the opposition, both on my own and my editor’s initiative. I remember on the eve of the Serbian Progressive Party coming to power in 2012, they got a lot of airtime in our programme, as did the Democratic Party. At that time, you couldn’t tell which political option a media outlet was favouring, unlike today when everything is polarized, and you know exactly which TV channel to switch to if you want to hear from a certain political option.
You stayed in England for a year, studying for your master’s degree. What was that experience like and what was the situation in their local media back then?
In England, I first learned about a different way that the education system operates which encourages your creativity, the ability to think for yourself and gives you the courage to present your ideas to others. I liked that the most in Britain, i.e. a kind of freedom that was completely new to me.
“We definitely cannot compare media freedom in Britain and Serbia, because everything that is in the public’s interest is broadcasted. Journalists are not afraid to do their job as they should “
In terms of the British media scene, it seems to me that it can be quite brutal towards the authorities, the opposition and public figures in general. We definitely cannot compare media freedom in Britain and Serbia, because there everything that is in the public’s interest is broadcasted. Journalists are not afraid to do their job as they should, regardless of their personal position or the position of their editors. I was there just when they were facing great challenges like Brexit and terrorist attacks, and I saw the responsible attitude that the media representatives had towards their work.
Staying in Qatar has given you a better insight into the Middle Eastern media scene. How would you rate it?
As much as Britain is a contrast to Serbia, so much is the Middle East in a contrast to everything else you can imagine. There are several newspapers in Qatar in the Arabic and English language which mainly report on topics related to society, economy and business. Qatar has experienced fantastic economic and business growth in the last two decades and is considered one of the very economically prosperous countries. Therefore, it is only logical that the media mostly cover topics that best present the country to the domestic and foreign public, especially considering that Qatar is preparing for the 2022 World Cup and expects a large influx of tourists.
North America is the only inhabited continent you have not set foot on yet. Out of the many destinations you have visited in other parts of the world, which have left the strongest impression on you?
I applied for a job at Qatar Airways in September and got the job in October, soon heading to the other side of the world. Quite surprisingly and unprepared, I was given the opportunity to work on the Airbus 380, the largest commercial aircraft in the world, and I flew mostly to Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe.
I think I could live in Sydney if it wasn’t so far away. The city is very cut off from the world to be an option for me. In general, I really like Southeast Asia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, as well as some African countries like Namibia. I enjoyed my time spent there. However, since we are Europeans, European destinations are important. I found Spain and Malta to be the most fun. Brazil was perhaps my most exotic experience, and we had the longest break there. Each country is special in itself.
What motivated you to return to Serbia?
I came back because of the situation with COVID. I planned to stay for a few more years, but as you know, the pandemic hit the aviation industry quite hard. The industry still hasn’t recovered and probably won’t for a few more years. Today, the situation in aviation is quite different, as the crew is forbidden to leave hotels in destinations, so a significant part of the beauty of that job is lost as you no longer have freedom of movement.
“If it weren’t for N1, I don’t believe I would return to media. Now I have the opportunity to work in what is probably the most professional environment in Serbia”
That job meant a lot to me, I made a lot of contacts. I consider myself wealthy because I am confident that I can go anywhere in life and I will manage just fine, find a job and have friends nearby. After Qatar and that kind of experience, I feel free and my self-confidence has grown.
Now I see myself as someone who could create an atmosphere in which I would live halfway between Serbia and the rest of the world. The freedom to be able to travel and return at any time is very important to me.
After a few-year-long break, you are back in the media. How did you decide on that?
In fact, I had no break because I continued to write articles for Danas daily and the Autonomija website while working as a flight attendant. I have also launched my podcast and have had different interlocutors. My passion for journalism has survived despite the years I spent outside of Serbia doing various other jobs. Probably because of that, I was lucky to get a job at N1.
In my opinion, the overall situation in which the Serbian media find themselves today is quite gloomy, and I sometimes wonder how colleagues from other media manage to survive in such collectives. I have matured, grew up and realized that I should not judge anyone because everyone has their own motives and reasons why they go through certain situations in life and have to tolerate the environment in which they work. However, if it weren’t for N1, I don’t believe I would return to media. Now I have the opportunity to work in what is probably the most professional environment in Serbia.