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Human Rights in Serbia 2000


V - Freedom of Expression and Right to Information


1. General status of media in the course of the year 2000

The 5 October political turnaround positively affected the media scene in Serbia which had been previously divided in two confronted fronts: the pro-regime media (the most influential electronic medium, Radio Television Serbia, daily Politika, TANJUG news agency, etc. and independent media, numerous dailies and weeklies, and Radio and TV stations (notably the local ones), which have openly started backing the opposition parties since summer 2000. During the 5 October developments the pro-regime media changed sides and openly supported the new authorities. That was their chance to survive and go unpunished under new circumstances. On the other hand the anti-regime media had already established (in the pre-election period) strong ties with DOS and its presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica.

All in all since 5 October the media started presenting a more realistic picture of domestic and foreign events, but much progress was not made in terms of quality of relevant coverage. Major publishing and TV houses (RTS, Politika, Tanjug News Agency) which under the regime's instructions used to produce "virtual reality," in the past decade experienced a reverse process, the one of utter de-professionalization. The price paid for the long-standing devastation of journalistic profession is becoming manifest only now. The same holds true of independent media, which bore the brunt of repression and paraeconomic measures (inequitable conditions of operations, seizure of frequencies, irregular supply of paper, etc). But independent media had also uncritically accepted the Greater Serbia project.

The aforementioned is best illustrated by recent coverage of hot topics, notably the crisis in South of Serbia, relations with Montenegro, status of Vojvodina. By and large all the media through their reports, analyses and commentaries emulate the past matrix. This conduct is apparently condoned by the new ruling set.

Not a single medium has so far shown any interest in tackling the issues of key importance for the recovery of the Serb society and its democratisation. There is no insistence on opening up the issue of the war-time responsibility, war crimes and on the need for examination and facing up to such responsibility. The issue of hand-over of Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal has been receiving wide coverage, but that coverage includes propagation of the government's position that "Milosevic should be tried at home for corruption and electoral rigging," "the Yugoslav Constitution does not foresee the possibility of hand-over of Yugoslav citizens to foreign countries," and that the "Hague Tribunal is of an anti-Serb character and a political court." The basic position is that Milosevic harmed mostly the Serb people, and that he is to be blamed for signing capitulation in Dayton and Kumanovo.

If the October political turnaround is a prelude to the social transition in Serbia, then the important media issues are likely to be tackled shortly. An equitable market competition and approach to sources of information and resources (frequencies, paper, printing facilities) under conditions of free competition shall indicate whether there is a genuine potential for creating in the right way the media of clear-cut profiles. Only if moral is re-established in all strata of Serb society, then necessary transformation of both print and electronic media can be effected.

Situation in the media always mirrors a broader social context. Repressive policy and constant pressures of the past regime have badly affected and morally devastated journalistic profession. The Serbian media in the year 2000 experienced the last stage of the past regime's repression, and after Milosevic's ouster embarked upon a process of establishment of new rules based on professional standards.

As regards the influential RTS and Politika news and informative programs/coverage, considerable progress was made in their contents. Extensive reports on daily events are professionally done, but lack both the analytical and research dimension. Lengthy commentaries are steeped in anti-Western sentiments and conspiratorial mind-set. Both RTS and Politika do not take a critical stand on the new authorities. In fact much kow-towing is at play.

Political changes have not entailed expected changes in the media scene. New political structures were not too eager to question the responsibility of top ranking officials of former regime (barring a few exceptions). Journalists were also reluctant to remind their colleagues of their notorious past performances, or "hate speech credits" during the wars waged by Serbia.

Surprisingly enough highly promoted were those who colluded with the past regime: Captain Dragan, Red Berets, academicians, staunch supporters of Milosevic and his war policy, and the SPS dissidents. New authorities follow in their predecessors footsteps by continuing politicization of media and taking firm control over them. A chance to contest appointment of Boris Tadic, the DP high-ranking member and the Federal Telecommunications Minister, as a member of the Management Board of Politika, was missed.

During two-year long enforcement of the repressive Public Information Law the Serbian media paid fines to the tune of DM 2.5 million, saw 17 journalists die, and several sentenced to heavy prison terms (one was even convicted of espionage) and experienced a drastic fall in the quality of their coverage.

The former regime viewed the media exclusively as its propaganda tools, and feared the independent media. After pacification of the print media through the Public Information Law, the authorities perceived as their biggest enemy the ANEM network, embracing a large number of local radio and TV stations renowned for their impartial information policy. Radio B92 in the course of the year 2000 continued to develop its media and political project. It took the media center stage and rallied around all political and social factors bent on forcing Milosevic out of office.

Although censorship has never been officially introduced, not even during the NATO bombardment campaign, in the climate of all-pervasive fear self-censorship took root, notably after the adoption of the Public Information Law. The media policy was masterminded and orchestrated by a small working group within the republican government. It voiced its guidelines at press conferences and briefings held behind the closed doors only for a group of selected journalists.

The extent of repression is best illustrated by the following facts: the media work was monitored by a prosecutor and four deputies in the Belgrade District Prosecutor's Office, in November 1998 the Serbian government set up a special team composed of representatives of the municipal and republican prosecution, the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Information Ministry, financial police and inspection, which was tasked with monitoring the media coverage. That group then decided against which media to file charges and also determined fines to be meted out for the 'improper media work."

It is a well known fact that the regime during its most repressive stage of rule invested major funds in both print and electronic media and continually recruited new talents, easy to manipulate. In co-operation with the Belgrade Law Faculty the regime organised in May 2000 a special year-long course in public relations for 70 selected students. They already had grants of the ruling party and guaranteed jobs.

The republican institutions and the ruling SPS-AYL coalition prioritised control over the media. The Yugoslav Left particularly insisted on such a control. There was a lot of one-upmanship in proving loyalty to the regime among the pro-regime journalists. Journalists of RTS and Politika threatened to disclose names of their pro-opposition fellow-journalists employed by independent media and publicly branded them as traitors and NATO lackeys "who ought to be expelled from our midst." One journalist even suggested that a list of those 'traitors' be drawn up a public throwback to "their hostile activities against their own people."

In the past decade crony privatisation of some media was carried out, although the leading AYL official, Ljubisa Ristic stated that: "my party is against privatisation, we shall do things differently." But despite privatisation of some media houses (Politika, Vecernje novosti) they were still strictly controlled by the regime. This implies that the new owners were members of the ruling parties. Every attempt of some editors to pursue a more independent policy ended in the dismissal of the whole editorial team, or even in a new property transformation, (the case of Vecernje novosti). Almost all independent media, barring weekly Vreme and daily Danas, were subjected to similar treatment.

Although authenticity of RTS information was always questionable, in recent years, notably in the post-bombardment period, RTS informative programs lost touch with reality. But the RTS influence was rapidly dwindling and its ratings on the eve of elections were at an all-time low. All the while parents and relatives of 16 RTS employees, who had perished in the bombardment of the RTS building, continued to undermine the moral reputation of this medium, by blaming the top RTS officials for failing to remove the employees from the building, a presumed target of NATO planes. Director of RTS, Dragoljub Milanovic, sustained life-threatening injuries after being roughed up by demonstrators who had broken in the RTS building on 5 October. They blamed him for failing to timely warn his 16 colleagues against the impending danger and relieving them of their duties on the fatal night." Families and relatives of the perished ignored the following justification given by Milanovic: "they lost their lives for they loved their profession and their country, they represented forces of good locked in fight against forces of evil" and "NATO lackeys are continuing their internationally-instigated aggression by playing even with the most innocent victims of NATO criminals." They also turned a deaf ear to the following patriotic statement of Milanovic: "it is high time to stop politically-motivated speculations about heroic deaths of RTS employees, may they rest in peace." (Danas, 23 April 2000)

On the eve of September 2000 elections the media lost their influence: election communication was intensely evolving on other planes, beyond the media. Hence the pre-election campaign was more radical than the previous ones. Snjezana Milivojevic, a media analyst, assessed that the regime continued to send loud and clear its patriotic messages, but as they failed to garner enough support TV propaganda was increasingly supplanted by police measures. (Analytical Service of the Media Centre, 20 September 2000)

Although it seemed that the regime still had full control over the electronic media, it was in fact faced with loss of support and influence. After a decade-long repression, shutdowns, strangleholds and crackdowns, all the Belgrade TV stations broadcast only the regime propaganda. But when that propaganda remained the only message in the media field, it lost its clout, because it rang very hollow.

Just a few days before the elections, Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, thus addressed the Berane rally: " The opposition leaders are rabbits, rats and hyenas." The regime's impotence thus became very evident. Furthermore the Federal Justice Minister called the official UN body, the Hague Tribunal "a terrorist organisation composed of criminals, spies and mercenaries...its Prosecutor is a whore."


2. Repression against the media

a. Discrediting the political opponents

Use of the state-controlled media and propaganda in discrediting the political opponents was not a new practice in the political scene of Serbia in the year 2000. What was however new was the scale of brutality, arrogance, hatred employed, and unveiled threats and open calls to lynch of the regime's political opponents. That new propaganda concept stemmed from an increasingly paranoid mood of the ruling establishment, and its stance that its political opponents were no longer only "fifth columnists, foreign mercenaries and craven traitors" but individuals who had in the meantime morphed into "criminals, killers and terrorists."

Statements of the ruling parties front men on the independent media, the opposition and its followers, and in general on citizens with the anti-regime or liberal leanings, usually heralded enforcement of new repressive measures. In those terms most salient were statements made by Vojislav Seselj (Vice President of the Serbian government), Aleksandar Vucic (the Serbian Information Minister), Goran Matic, (the FRY Information Minister) and Ivan Markovic (the FRY Telecommunications Minister)

Assassination of Bosko Perosevic, Vojvodina Prime Minister was a watershed which prompted the announced adoption of the Anti-Terrorist Act, and escalation of repression against the political and other opponents. Like no other event this last in a series of politically motivated assassinations instilled fear in the ruling clique. This is best illustrated by statement of Zivorad Smiljanic, President of the Vojvodina Assembly: "If terrorism is a continuation of war, then this war is illogical. Why are only our people killed?" A simultaneous statement of Vojislav Seselj is very threatening and in fact heralds escalation of repression: "Gloves are off! Now everything is crystal clear and the one who brandishes the sword, perishes from that very sword. Don't fool yourself that we shall allow you to kill us like rabbits, while we nurture you like plants in pots. Take heed of these warnings! You are working against your state. You are paid in US dollars to destroy your state. Your are traitors! Your are the worst breed of people. You are worse than ordinary criminals(...) we are hunting down killers among those of you who are on the payroll of foreign intelligence services. You are accomplices to murders(...) You are murderers. You are murderers of your people and your state. Potential murderers. All of you who work for the Americans. You, from Danas, you from B2-92, you from Glas javnosti, you from Novosti, you from Blic" (Blic, 11 February 2000)

Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian Information Minister, assessed that the republican Information Law succeeded in regulating, and as much as it was possible in preventing the broadcasting of "hostile psychological propaganda services, as well as a campaign of slanders and lies." In his interview to the Kragujevac-based private TV "Kanal 9" Vucic accused the "Voice of America", "BBC", "Radio Free Europe" and other media of having transmitted programs in Serbian language in order to prepare the Serb people for the NATO aggression, and with this goal in mind pursued "a hysterical anti-Serbian propaganda". Vucic went on to stress: "We have foiled you intention." (Blic, 1 February 2000)

The regime hampered efforts of the independent media to regularly perform their professional duties. Namely journalists of independent media were for example banned from monitoring/covering the work of the national parliament and of other state bodies. This policy was kicked off after the Radical Party had made public its decision to ban "the treacherous media" from attending the press conference and meetings of this party. According to the assessment of the presidential staff of the SRP, "journalists working in such media should disappear from the domestic political scene, for "they are spies of the United States and of other Western countries" (they were thus labelled by Vojislav Seselj) (Politika, 18 February 2000)

Most virulent was the statement of Dragan Tomic, President of the Serbian Parliament: "the opposition rally (held on 15 May 2000) did not have a democratic character, but rather a most blatantly fascist one. The opposition leaders are scum despised by our people, for they have betrayed our holiest interests. (Glas javnosti, 16 May 2000). Mirko Marjanovic, Serbian Prime Minister, also felt obliged to say something about the opposition: "All their past and present deeds demonstrate their role of traitors, mercenaries, killers and criminals. Thence there is no place for them in the unified front of defence, reconstruction and development." (Glas javnosti, 16 May 2000)

Speech delivered by Mira Markovic, president of the Directorate of the Associated Yugoslav Left in small town, called Crna Trava, ranks undoubtedly among most intolerant and simultaneously most senseless ones: "There (reference to the opposition-run municipalities) we see a combination of local thieves and bribed informers who ridicule freedom, for such mocking serves them to more easily swallow the bitter pill of treason...and they have gone so far in their treason, that they have reached the point of no return." According to Markovic "the Yugoslav capital for the forth consecutive year has become reminiscent of those Euro-Asian settlements, which caught in the time warp, are morphing into moral and spiritual garbage dumps....Belgrade is managed by people who in their childhood and youth were deprived of elementary rearing methods and were not taught basic hygienic habits." In explaining the reasons for their uncouth conduct Mira Markovic noted that "the space from which 'freedom-fighters withdrew' was occupied by 'bribed cowards, personalities with shady biographies from the aspect of international interest, frustrated men and hormonally disturbed women." (Blic, 27 April 2000)

Feelings of paranoia and fear ran rampant. This forced Slobodan Milosevic, the FRY President to do something out of his character, that is to venture into making extreme statements. For example, On the Day of Victory over Fascism, 9 May, he made the following statement: "The Nineties of the Twentieth century were unfortunately reminiscent of the Thirties. One big power was again bent on conquering the whole world. The most developed nations are again bothered by the presence of the poor and undeveloped ones and the former try to cleanse territories from 'surplus' nations and peoples, to be able to promote their allegedly superior way of life. A brutal system of retaliation against all those who mount resistance to such campaign of conquest is rearing its ugly head anew. Propaganda more efficient than the one practised by Goebbels, spy agencies more powerful than Gestapo, the Hague dirtier that Aushwitz. Once again the most powerful weapon of the big occupiers are their lackeys in the country they want to conquer...those lackeys are the conquerors' bloody allies in the country and among the people they want to erase from the face of earth or at least subjugate...Once again those lackeys and their superiors call their treason 'an integration into the world processes' "an effort to understand the spirit of the contemporary world, and sometimes they disguise their treason as "a patriotic concern and patriotic moves," the latter being made by them, the smart ones, allegedly in the interest of people who in fact stand no chance against a more powerful enemy. Those patriotism-minded lackeys maintain that the hot-headed idealists, dreamers and revolutionaries, should be killed in gas chambers, extradited to the Hague, gunned down in the streets, in front of their flats, in restaurants, thanks to the money that the occupiers had given to a handful of their smart domestic allies. In fact those foreign lackeys are plunging our people into a confrontation which can result only in a defeat. (Glas javnosti, 10 May 2000)

b. State terror against the electronic media

Various repressive measures were used against the non-government media and free flow and exchange of information. Vis a vis radio and TV stations the policy of selective granting of frequencies was pursued. Formal decisions on frequency-and operational licences granting or non-granting were much-delayed in order to keep owners of private radio and TV stations in a state of uncertainty and even, fear.

The nature of criteria for frequency-granting was amply illustrated by the following piece of information ran by Blic of 18 March 2000: "the Belgrade TV studio B reported yesterday that the Vojvodina district committees of the Serbian Socialist Party suggested to the SPS Main Committee which TV and radio stations should be granted frequencies for program transmission. " The Studio B footage showed photocopies of internal documents of mainly Vojvodina district committees of the SPS which included relevant opinions on the media which should be granted operating licences and on those media which should be 'put out of operation.' Those opinions were sent last April by committees of Southern Banat district, Western Backa district, Srem district, Northern Banat district, Southern Backa district and Central Banat district(...) In their letter to Ivica Dacic, Socialists of the Srem District state: "We are of opinion that frequencies should be granted to the publishing and radio-diffusion company Radio Sava from Sremska Mitrovica-the founder is our member, Politika's correspondent, Dragorad Dragicevic." Within the framework of documentation in possession of Studio B ten documents clearly indicated which media were exempted from paying compensation for the use of frequencies.

Of 18 radio and 15 TV stations , ANEM members, which in 1998 applied for an interim frequencies-granting competition organised by the Federal Telecommunications Ministry, only the then Radio B 92 and TV Pancevo were granted operating licenses. Other radio and TV stations are still awaiting a relevant reply from the Ministry. But despite the lack of the official green light most radio and TV stations procured equipment and began broadcasting their programs. Such an intentionally unregulated situation enabled the Federal Telecommunications Ministry to close down at will those stations, on grounds of their non-possession of regular licences, to deprive them of the right to broadcast programs, and seize their equipment and transmitters/relays. It is obvious that the aforementioned competition served the same purpose as the Public Information Law. The former was used as a mechanism for punishing the electronic media, while the latter targeted the print media.

In parallel with that obvious obstruction of work of the electronic media, the ruling coalition also used more subtle means, like the jamming of TV signals, which resulted in technically poor reception of TV programs. In Serbia there are over 500 radio and TV stations, of which two thirds are in private hands. This means that their survival on the market primarily hinges on their successful marketing policy. The blacklisted private media could not run ads of the large state-owned or private companies. This invariably reduced their marketing gains and profit. Added to that the non-regime media stood poor chances of survival at the media market, since the pro-regime TV and radio stations were frequently exempted from paying dues for frequency use and were favoured in TV spots and radio jingles competition.

It was obvious that the regime, starting from February 1998, when the competition for frequency-granting was announced, tried to put under its control all the electronic media. In this campaign the regime resorted to various covert and open pressures. Here are some salient examples thereof:

At the insistence of the Kursumlija municipal administration the Radio Television Serbia moved to deprive private TV Kursumlija of its right to broadcast from the Samokovo repeater. This TV station, since its launching, used to broadcast both the RTS informative programs and footage of the Serbian assembly sessions. But then it faced the official request to censor some parts of parliamentary sessions, a la RTS. Later broadcasting of the aforementioned sessions was officially banned, and in the last phase only broadcasting of reports checked by municipal officials was greenlighted. Wishing to make accessible to his fellow-citizens as much information as possible, Slavko Savic, owner of TV Kursumlija, during the pre-election campaign opened his studio to all those politicians willing to take part in his talk and other shows and programs. And he hosted a number of the opposition politicians, likewise those affiliated with the ruling parties. "All of them advocated free information, the media freedom. Today when they are in power, they believe they have an exclusive right to speak and to choose my invitees," says Savic. "In this turmoil, the main sticking point was the fact that TV Kursumlija was the only operating ANEM member in South Serbia. First I was banned from re-transmitting the VOA programs and then I was warned against re-transmission of TV Network and Video monthly (VIN) and other ANEM productions. For a short period of time, and in line with my consistent policy, I transmitted "Radical Waves", greenlighted by the officials, but spurned by many viewers, says Slavko Savic (Glas javnosti, 9 January 2000)

During March 2000 a new crackdown on electronic media was launched.

On 8 March 2000 five individuals, allegedly employees of the Telecommunications Ministry, raided premises of Pozarevac Radio BUM 93. They seized key broadcasting equipment on grounds of the radio's non-possession of frequency license and non-payment of 30,000 dinars compensation for the use of frequencies (Blic, 9 March 2000)

On 9 March private TV Nemanja and Radio Tir were closed down in Cuprija. Federal telecommunications inspectors escorted by 10 uniformed policemen raided premises of independent TV Nemanja, suspended its program and seized equipment. (Blic, 10 March 2000)

On 12 March twenty odd policemen knocked down the door and barged into premises of Pozega RTV. They seized part of broadcasting equipment and took it somewhere. (according to Danas, 13 March 2000)

On 27 May 2000 local policemen raided TV Mladenovac premises and ordered Zeljko Matic, a technician on duty to suspend all the programs. "Policemen stayed in TV premises only several minutes to ask Matic about his duties and location from which the program was broadcast. When the program was suspended and TV station premises locked, the policemen took Matic to the police station for further interrogation. There his name was put on record." (Glas javnosti, 28 May 2000)

c. Punishing the print media

Stranglehold on the non-governmental print media mainly consisted of their regular punishing cum fining under the Public Information Law. The past trend of draconian fines meted out to the non-regime media continued in the first half of this year too. The following examples attest to such notorious practice:

Zoran Kocic, Presiding judge of the Misdemeanour Chamber of Leskovac court, confirmed on 1 February the following sentences: independent weekly Vranjske novine was fined 600,000 dinars and its editor Vukasin Obradovic 200,000 dinars for having published the report of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, which, as determined "quoted lies about the visit of general Nebojsa Pavkovic to Veliki Trnovac (Vecernje novosti, 2 February 2000). It is also indicative that on 14 February unidentified perpetrators burglarised the local branch office of Associated Trade Unions "Nezavisnost" housing also editorial premises of "Vranjske novine" and stole a part of their equipment.

Senseless nature of the Public information Law is best depicted by the case of Kikindske novine. A local Serbian Socialist Party strongman, Rajko Popovic, filed charges against the paper: " Since October 1999 the Kikinda-based weekly Kikindske novine was seven times brought to court under the Public Information Law and consequently sentenced four times to pay four times exorbitant fines, totalling 880,000 dinars (...) Speaking about enormous pressure which the local SPS brought to bear on this municipal paper, Zeljko Bodrozic (editor-in-chief and responsible editor) stated that the paper was acquitted of charges only once, but as the Prosecutor won the case on appeal to the higher court in Novi Sad, the paper was ultimately punished" (Danas, 8 April 2000)

"Narodne novine" stood trial on 6 April on grounds of two controversial sentences. The Military Post 3755 filed charges against the paper for two allegedly offensive lines in its 29 February 2000 report on the Conference of the District Committee of the Serbian Renewal Movement, that is, its comments on the speech of the Committee's President, Branislav Jovanovic: "I want the authorities to explain to me the exact goal of mobilization and why the delivery of call-up papers has been stepped up?" The MP 3755 deemed that both lines damaged the Yugoslav Army reputation under article 69 of the Public Information Law. Punishments meted out to the accused were the following: both the founder and publisher of Narodne novine were fined 300,000 dinars each, while the fine meted out to the editor-in-chief and responsible editor Miroslav Zupanjevac was 100,000 dinars. (Srpska rec, 13 April 2000)

Misdemeanour judge in Kikinda, Miroslav Periz sentenced Kikindske novine to pay 200,000 fine for running the communique of the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina, titled "Stop Rajko Popovic" in a lawsuit filed by Rajko Popovic, responsible editor of the newspaper RTS Komuna. . "Youth Centre" was fined 100,000 dinars for the same offence, while Dusko Francuski and Zeljko Bodrozic, editor-in-chief and responsible editor, of Kikindske novine were fined 50,000 dinars each. This was the seventh lawsuit filed against the local paper by Rajko Popovic and the fifth fine meted out to Kikindske novine under the Public Information Law. To date Kikindske novine were fined a total of 1,080,000 dinars. (Blic, 20 April 2000)

In the past two years both the Yugoslav and international public opinion had many opportunities to "familiarise" with the 'contents and principles' of selective enforcement of the Public Information Law. Logic behind the enactment of the Law is clear and on this occasion we shall not dwell on it since it had been sufficiently explicated in our Report on Escalation of Repression for the Year 1999. However we shall now dwell on total results of such enforcement.

As a more resolute action pressing ahead with the repeal of the Public Information Law did not materialise, the regime had many reasons to be pleased with the effects of that Law: in less than two years on the basis of punitive provisions of the PIL the regime coffers grew richer by 30 million dollars. Moreover the Law was given genuine legitimacy by those against whom it was directed in the light of the fact that all fines were paid! Although the Law failed to eliminate all the non-regime media, it succeeded in narrowing their range of topics relevant for current political developments.

In the meantime the regime resorted to other, even more drastic measures with a view to protecting its own interests, intentionally equalised with the ones of the state. Hence the regime's increasing enforcement of more "potent" measures": detention, arrests, roughing-ups and severe jail sentences and preparations for the adoption of the Act on Public Companies and of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The case of Radio and TV Studio B is the most emblematic example of a media house which for years has successfully resisted different pressures, including the standing threat of the Public Information Law. That media house was severely fined under the aforementioned Law on several occasions and then was brutally closed down in May 2000.

d. Closure of Studio B

In the early Nineties, when the political pluralism in Serbia was in its infancy, Studio B, like Radio B-92, exemplified an open, free and independent electronic medium. Thanks to its high professional standards, notably in the area of informative-political programs, Independent Television Studio B (NTV Studio B) outgrew the framework of the local Belgrade television station, despite the administrative stranglehold (seizure of equipment, jamming of programs, difficulties in placing repeaters). In a very short span of time (four years) programs of NTV Studio B attracted several million regular viewers Serbia-wide. Unfortunately professionalism and independence of this TV, which in its golden years was a share-holding society, were the first victims of TV's take-over by the City Assembly.

When the SRM became the indisputable administrative ruler in Belgrade Studio B definitely lost its independence and morphed into an informative service of that party. But thanks to the new editorial policy pursued during the SRM stint with the SPS-AYL-SRP federal coalition government, the medium was punished only twice (on 24 March 1999 and 8 December 1999) under the Public Information Law (adopted on 20 October 1998). The question remains why after a period of relatively unhampered work Studio B suddenly, in only two months time (from February 24 to May 4, 2000) five times fell victim to the severely punitive provisions of the Public Information Law, its signal was jammed and on 18 May 2000 the republican government took over Studio B TV and radio station.

Here are some reasons thereof: the SRM bolted from the federal government during the NATO intervention due to divergent policy position, the SRM used Studio B as a mouthpiece for its dissatisfaction with the course of investigation of the Ibar Highway accident (four SRM members were killed in the accident) and most importantly, on 10 January 2000 the SRM signed the DOS agreement. All the aforementioned prompted the SRM to change its editorial policy, which in turn led to a relative opening of Studio B and its ostensible return to recognised principles of information, all of which obviously vexed the regime very much.

Harassment of Studio B, culminating in its take-over by the Serbian government, in fact began on 10 January 2000, when the opposition united: "Intensified jamming of Studio B signal, even during the broadcasting of feature films, sports and show &entertainment programs, is in itself inexplicable, but in any case-expected," said Dragan Kojadinovic, director and editor-in-chief of Studio B (Danas, 13 January 2000)

On 16 January unidentified perpetrators damaged TV Studio B repeater at Kosmaj and made it impossible for viewers in the interior of Serbia to watch Studio B program. Dragan Kojadinovic stated that "bandits hired to smash the repeater, were experts, for they knew that with mere removal of the modulator both picture and tone would be gone. He stressed that the Kosmaj relay was one of the five relays of that TV stations. "Due to a complete destruction of Channel 40, there's a Studio B program blackout in whole Pomoravlje." (Glas javnosti, 17 January 2000)

The next step was physical harassment. Unidentified perpetrators beat up in early morning hours Studio B worker Mirko Slavkovic and Dragan Lukovic, security worker of the Belgrade Water Supply System. As they smashed part of the broadcasting equipment of Radio B2-92 program, broadcast on wavelengths of the IIIrd program and TV program of Studio B, programs transmitted on the 51st channel had to be temporarily suspended (...) Blic was told by the Studio B technical service that one of the perpetrators knew the exact location of each piece of equipment and how to damage them. Dragan Kojadinovic, director and editor-in-chief of Studio B told us that the attack on two workers at the Torlak repeater was carried out by five men in police uniforms. Kojadinovic added that it would take several days to repair the equipment. (Blic, 7 March 2000)

Ivan Markovic, the Federal Telecommunications Minister also joined in the anti-Studio B harangue by making the following statement broadcast by the First Program of Radio Belgrade:

Information broadcast by Studio B two days ago was as usual unprofessional and tendentious. It vilified the state bodies and by reiterating untruths tried to heighten tensions...

Markovic also stressed that yesterday's SRM and Studio B communique particularly irritated our citizens, for it was directed against our national unity and heroes of the country's defence-the Yugoslav Army and Interior Ministry of the republic of Serbia.

It is quite certain that spreading untruths about the work of state bodies and constant smear-campaign against them must attract the attention of the Public Prosecutor, in line with his official duty...

Since 12 August 1999 when the federal government was re-shuffled, and consequently became the Government of National Unity, the Federal Telecommunications Ministry, did not take any repressive measure, from the province of its authorisation, against radio and TV stations, allegedly operating contrary to legal regulations in place. The Ministry had instead sent a circular letter to 'incriminated' media instructing them how to 'remove' irregularities form their work. Deadlines were set for removal of those irregularities. To date not a single TV station has been closed down. (Borba, 18 January 2000)

In parallel with the signal jamming, a smear campaign against Studio B was staged. For example, the police Major General Branko DJuric took Studio B to court for allegedly "broadcasting false information which hurt his reputation." DJuric demanded that misdemeanour proceedings be instituted against Studio B, for this TV station "planted false information that General Branko DJuric, nicknamed Buca, organised assassination of the truck driver, responsible for the Ibar Highway incident in which four SRM members were killed." It was also said in the aforementioned program that "DJuric was surely duty-bound to supervise the smooth execution of the whole operation, that is to make sure that lives of Secret Service agents were out of peril." (Danas, 6 March 2000). Studio B was found guilty of a wilful slander and fined 450,000 dinars.

Ivan Markovic, the Federal Telecommunications Minister, on 6 March, sent a memo to Studio B, notifying its management board that "no operating licences for 1922,5 MHZ frequency were granted to Studio B, in view of which, "it had to stop using that wavelength." Ivan Markovic also notified Studio B that its outstanding debt for the interim use of radio and TV frequencies, on 29 February stood at 10,755,314.39 dinars, and ordered Studio B to settle that debt within 7 days (Politika, 7 March 2000). On 14 March the Assembly of City of Belgrade settled the debt.

Despite the debt settlement the Serb government continued its anti-Studio B campaign which culminated in the take-over of the medium. It was made public that there were legal grounds for the take-over, for Studio B was legally the state-owned property. Thus the Serbian government decided to re-take control over its property by taking over the founding rights from the Assembly of Belgrade. The government's decision was signed by Vice President Milovan Bojic and Vojislav Seselj (Glas javnosti, 18 May 2000). The Serb government justified its decision by alleging that Studio B programs repeatedly called for toppling of constitutional order. It also stated that the decision was taken in line with the request of the Serbian Information Ministry.

Studio B take-over was carried out on 18 May 2000. "After 2 a.m a large number of special policemen, with masks on their faces, and with metal rods and even some heavy construction equipment in their hands appeared at the entrance of "Beogradjanka" building. They ran to the elevators and quickly rode up to the floors on which editorial offices of Studio B, Radio Indeks and Radio B-2 92 were. They were followed by policemen in plainclothes and in uniforms who abducted a handful of journalists and technicians and held them in the first-floor offices until 7.30 a.m. They searched us immediately, seized our cellular phones, and without using physical coercion led us down to the first-floor offices. Then masked special policemen suddenly turned up in those premises." This was a statement made by one of the "ambushed journalists" who wanted to remain anonymous. He also maintained that no police vehicles were spotted in front of "Beogradjanka." (Danas, 18 May 2000)

The Assembly of Belgrade and its Public Enterprise Studio B took to court the Republic of Serbia for 'property trespassing.' "Officials of the Republic of Serbia unlawfully took over our premises and trespassed our property." (Glas javnosti, 18 May 2000)

The authorities publicly defended their decision as "a measure taken within the framework of the struggle against criminality, terrorism, Studio B-staged incitement to revolt and its attempts to provoke a civil war in Serbia." The Belgrade Committee of the AYL statement read: "Studio B and some other media in Serbia for quite some time now have been used as instruments in a campaign to destroy our state and were directly hired by foreign factors to destabilise Serbia and the FRY in all possible ways." (Politika, 18 May 2000)

The Belgrade police squashed citizens' attempts to defend Studio B at the very outset of protests. They dispersed the crowd gathered in front of the city assembly on 17 May. Then dozens of protesters were beaten up and many had to receive medical assistance in the Clinical Centre of Serbia. Citizens rallied again on 18 May. In the downtown clash with the police more than 100 demonstrators sustained both light and serious injuries. The police used tear gas, shock bombs and according to uncertified information, even rubber-coated bullets. During the police intervention about 40 people were arrested. The majority of them were sentenced to 20 or 30 days' imprisonment and taken to serve their sentences to Padinska Skela prison and the Central Penitentiary in Belgrade. (according to Danas, 20-21 May 2000)

Putting Studio B under firm state control was unlawful under the Act on the Funds in Property of the Republic of Serbia, although the government claimed otherwise. In Danas commentary (30 May 2000) the following was stressed: "When the state or other public-legal entity (for example the city of Belgrade) invests state-owned assets into a public company on the basis of the founder's equity, then the state-owned assets fall under the regime of private, legal business operations, and a public-legal entity can exercise its rights over those assets exclusively through founder's rights (the right to take part in the management bodies, the right to dividend, the right to the remainder of liquidation or the bankruptcy mass). Thus invested assets are managed exclusively by a company's management bodies and company's founders only have the right to influence a decision-making process through their representatives in management bodies. In Studio B case its founder is the city of Belgrade, if only on the basis of the right to management and utilisation of that capital delegated to it by the Republic. Hence the Republic could regain the state-owned property utilised by the city of Belgrade, the one invested as the founding capital of Studio B, only on the basis of a contract, a judicial ruling or unilateral act of the city of Belgrade. Unilateral take-over of Studio B founding rights from the city of Belgrade was not legally grounded. (Danas, 30 May 2000)

e. Other pressures on the media

The spectrum of repressive measures taken by the state expanded almost every day. For example lists of "politically incompatible" individuals banned from taking part in TV programs of the state-run media were drawn up. Actors Petar Kralj, Milena Dravic, Dragan Nikolic , Voja Brajovic and Aleksandar Bercek, as well as singers Bora DJordjevic, DJordje Balasevic, etc. and other prominent show-business personalities, were among the blacklisted. "All producers have been tasked with erasing credit lists from the old programs and simply ending them with 'Produced by RTS (...) It was said that the decision was taken by the top management, so that the RTS General Director would not come across any 'undesirable name'...and 'undesirable names' were practically all those who did not hold managing positions in this medium (...). The first official black list was signed by Dragoljub Milanovic, RTS Director, in May 1998: "Further engagement of temporary associates from the list attached to the decree is prohibited. This also applies to any future hiring of all temps involved in pay compensation lawsuits against RTS..." There were 92 names on that list. (Nin, 2 March 2000)

Repression was not only directed against the independent media, but also 'aimed at' disciplining those pro-regime media which increasingly started pursuing a politically unbiased coverage, primarily in order to boost their circulation sales. The most salient example of the aforementioned is daily "Vecernje Novosti" which on 2 March 2000, by decision of the federal government merged with the federal public institution "Borba." This move was preceded by the Belgrade Higher Commercial Court judgement annulling privatisation effected by "Novosti" Share-Holding Society. The federal government decision was justified in the following manner: "the court determined that the state was a majority shareholder of the company." Dusan Cukic, member of the Main Committee of the Serbian Socialist Party and RTS journalist was named director and editor-in-chief of Vecernje Novosti. He immediately set out guidelines of the new policy based on "the patriotic-minded journalism which only purpose shall be to safeguard the state interests."

One of the more drastic examples of the media stranglehold was the case of Company ABC "Produkt" from Belgrade and its affiliates "Glas" and ABC "Grafika," which published independent dailies and weeklies such as Glas javnosti, Blic, Nin, Vreme, etc. The ruling coalition waged a veritable judicial-police campaign of harassment to force the company into bankruptcy and then put it under the state control. And the regime's efforts ultimately bore fruit: after 36 misdemeanour fines ABC "Grafika" bankrupted. Under the PIL that company was sued 50 times and was fined 10 times. Its fines exceeded 6 million dinars. Penalties meted out by the financial police totalled 10 million dinars, while those meted out by the Belgrade Commercial Court approximated 170 million dinars. (Glas javnosti, 27 June 2000)


3. Local media

In the face of escalating regime's repression the local media took on an important role, the one of provider of impartial information to the general public. They were often more 'brave' than the Belgrade ones, and consequently punished for their plucky attitude. Together with foreign services in Serb language they spearheaded a system of fair and impartial information. But local media, like the major electronic ones, were punished for not having appropriate operating licences. On the other hand such licences were granted only to the media which met the 'required' political criteria. Foreign pressures and domestic demonstrations often prevented denial or seizure of operating licences. None of ANEM or Spectar members were granted licences at the official competitions. Hence they worked in a very tense atmosphere, fearing the arrival of Ministry of Telecommunications inspectors.

The authorities, aware of the importance of the local media, then began launching their own media. In the year 2000 over 20 radio and TV stations were established. While RTS covers 8 million citizens of Serbia, the local media have an audience of about 3 million citizens. The regime's objective was to root out independent local media and establish a sovereign control over the existing electronic media. Only few media, mostly those engaged in ancillary activities, running of gasoline stations and transport companies, the revenues from which were used for subsidising radio and TV stations, were allowed to import digital equipment.

Police raided premises of local media and seized their equipment. More subtle means were also used. If a company advertised its product on the Nis TV5, members of the SPS and the AYL sent police and inspectors to harass its management. Next time around the company's products would be advertised on the pro-regime TV. The NIS tobacco industry consequently gave TV5 a wide berth! In view of the aforementioned local media gradually lost all their advertising revenues. Among the media which produce good and varied programs, instead of broadcasting only films and music, most prominent are: TV5 (Nis), TV 5 (Uzice), TV Plus (Krusevac), Svitel (Svilajnac), TV Vujic (Valjevo), TV Galaksija (Cacak), TV Spectrum (Cacak), Kanal 9 (Kragujevac), Studio M (Vranje), K54 (Sombor), K21 (Jagodina). One of the principal victims of regime's crackdown was RTV San (Novi Pazar): its equipment was repeatedly seized and its program often suspended). The same holds true of Radio Globus (Kraljevo) and Kikindske novine.

The media owners who hid their political leanings fared much better. One of them said: "My TV station is worth 1 million DM. Under the current market conditions my ever-dwindling market profit is 600 DM monthly. If I discontinued my informative program and my own production, my earnings would increase tenfold." In the meantime an association of independent local media, "Local press" was set up. It stated that it would endeavour to articulate the needs of all its members in order to make their joint market survival easier.

Although the local print media frequently registered in Montenegro (to avoid the fate of the major Serbian independent dailies), they were nonetheless punished under the Public Information Law. Most frequent pressure method were libel lawsuits against them. By taking those libel actions the regime members tried both to protect themselves and to destroy the local print media.

Vranjske novine were for example charged with "fanning religious and national hatred," while other dailies stood trial for "damaging reputation of prominent personalities." Libel action taken against Kikindske novine five times by director and editor-in-chief of Komuna, a daily closely affiliated with Milosevic's regime. And Kikindske novine were heavily fined five times.

Pressures on the local media also included irregular paper supply, high paper prices, impeded distribution and printing. Printing of every new issue met with new difficulties. Thus the local print media could not plan their long-term development, but instead had to focus on their daily survival.

Local media, notably the pro-opposition ones and those giving much air time to DOS ads/ spots bore the brunt of the regime's repression during the September pre-election campaign. Owner of TV Rosulja in Vlasotinac (350,000 inhabitants) was closely affiliated with the local authorities, but during the federal election race broadcast CESID (Centre for Free Elections and Democracy) poll findings and the SRM presidential nominee spots. As early as on 27 August, in late evening hours he was visited by the financial police and the following day by a market inspection team. The latter handed him an eviction decision taken on grounds of his, alleged, "property usurpation." The owner moved out of premise which he had used for five years and continued his broadcasts from other location.

In closing stages of the pre-election race TV Cacak relay, covering the area of Gornji Milanovac (50,000 inhabitants), was seized. The action of seizure of the relay followed a TV Cacak lengthy footage on a local DOS presidential candidate.

The Nis TV notified its viewers that it would cover the night-time counting of early returns. Then an unidentified State Security official warned the TV owner against such coverage. Further threats would have probably ensued had not the DOS candidate won.

TV and radio signals were jammed regularly or sporadically. In August and September wavelengths of the following local media were continually jammed: RTV Pancevo, Radio B2-92, Radio o21, Radio Index. TV Belle amie, Radio Globus in Kraljevo.





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