Alerts   |   Yugoslavia

CPJ Condemns Media Crackdown in Yugoslavia

New York, N.Y., March 25, 1999 -- As NATO carries out air strikes against Yugoslavia, President Slobodan Milosevic has turned his fury on the independent journalists who are attempting to cover the story. When a state of emergency was declared on March 23, Milosevic lashed out at Radio B92, taking the Belgrade-based station off the air, and detaining its chief editor Veran Matic. It may be only a matter of time before all broadcast outlets and newspapers are banned from airing or printing information not sanctioned by the state.


The current crackdown on the press is Milosevic's latest salvo in a year-long campaign against independent journalists that began in March 1998, when war erupted between the Belgrade government and the Kosovo Liberation Army. During that time, independent journalists have persisted in getting the story of the conflict out over radio, television, and the Internet, despite being censored, jailed, beaten, harassed, prosecuted, and fined (see case narratives, page 3). Nevertheless, this escalating series of attacks, including the shutdown of several leading newspapers, has left Yugoslavia's independent journalists feeling abandoned by their supporters in the West. Their desolation has only intensified as Milosevic has ratcheted up his efforts to silence them with apparent impunity.

As an organization dedicated to press freedom around the world, CPJ rejects any attempt to muzzle or control the press. We believe that journalists' ability to report freely is essential to the nonviolent resolution of conflicts, and that suppression of the press during periods of unrest or armed hostilities only increases fear and suspicion among the general population. The right to seek and impart information is enshrined in international law, specifically Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, under international law, journalists must be treated as non-combatants by all parties in an armed conflict. Because we now fear for the physical safety of journalists working in Yugoslavia, we demand that the Milosevic government comply with the international norms regarding the protection of journalists during wartime.

According to Yugoslavia's Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), on March 24, 1999, at 2:50 a.m., Radio B92 was banned from further broadcasts. Two technical operatives of the Yugoslav Federal Telecommunications Ministry, backed by about 10 policemen, entered the premises of Radio B92 and instructed its staff to immediately discontinue broadcasts. The policemen instructed all staff present to cease work on computers, switch them off, turn off their mobile phones, and refrain from answering the phones.

The telecommunications officials told the B92 staff that "the Yugoslav federal inspector for telecommunications had, according to Article 192 Paragraph 1 of the Law on the General Administrative Procedures and to Article 1 Paragraph 1 Point 2 of the Law on the Systems of Connections, passed the decision ordering Radio B92's imediate cessation of the illegal radio-broadcasts of its radio diffusion station operating on the 92.5 MHz frequency."

"With the purpose of preventing further operation of the radio station, the [officials] will carry out temporary seizure of radio equipment until a decision is made by the competent agency. Appeal does not suspend the enforcement of the ruling," read an official note presented to the staff.

Also on March 24, at about 3 a.m., just after the ban's imposition, Veran Matic, Radio B92's chief editor and chairman of ANEM, was arrested by police who had accompanied inspectors from the Telecommunications Ministry. He was taken to the Belgrade police station, where he was detained for eight hours. He was released shortly before 12 p.m. While in detention, he was not allowed to contact his family or his lawyers. He was not questioned by police nor was he provided with a statement, written or verbal, outlining the reasons for his detention.

At a press conference following Matic's release, Radio B92 issued a statement which said: "The arrest of Veran Matic and the disruption of Radio B92's broadcasts are part of an increasingly radical suppression of independent media, creating unrest and fear in the people of Yugoslavia. They are also a direct message to the international community that the Serbian regime is prepared to resort to such measures against its citizens as part of its confrontation with the rest of the world. Radio B92 and ANEM have warned that this can only exacerbate division, fear and unrest in the society."

Representatives of B92 have filed an appeal. The station has continued to transmit information on the Internet and by satellite to the other 33 ANEM members, which, as of today, are transmitting their own broadcasts.



Attacks on the Press in Yugoslavia
March 1998 - March 1999


1999

March 22
The Pristina Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore was fined 420,000 dinars (US$26,800) and Baton Haxhiu, the newspaper's chief editor was fined 110,000 dinars (US$7,200) for violations of the Serbian Information Law. The other significant Albanian-language newspapers, Gazeta Sqiptare and Kosovo Sot, mentioned below, were forced to close down because of their inability to pay fines imposed on them. Another Albanian-language newspaper, Bujku, has not published regularly since January because the authorities have denied it a license.

March 21
The Pristina Albanian-language weekly Kombi was fined 1.6 million dinars (US$104,500) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

March 16
The Albanian-language daily Gazeta Sqiptare was fined 1.6 million dinars (US$104,500) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

March 13
• The Belgrade daily Blic was fined 150,000 dinars (US$9400) and Veselin Simonovic, the chief editor, was fined 70,000 dinars (US$ 4400) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.
• The Belgrade daily Danas was fined 250,000 dinars (US$15,600) and Grujica Spasovic, the chief editor, was fined 150,000 dinars (US$9400) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.
• The Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti was fined 100,000 dinars (US$7000) and Milan Becejic, the chief editor was fined 50,000 dinars (US$3500) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

March 12
The Pristina Albanian-language daily Kosovo Sot was fined 1.6 million dinars (US$104,500) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

March 8
Judge Krsto Bobot of the First Municipal Court in Belgrade sentenced Slavko Curuvija, the owner of the Podgorica-based independent daily Dnevni Telegraf, and Srdjan Jankovic and Zoran Lukovic, two of the newspaper's reporters, to five months imprisonment for spreading false information. They were charged under Article 218 of the criminal code in connection with a December 5, 1998, article which linked Milovan Bojic, the Serbian vice president and director of the Dedinje Institute for Cardiovascular Diseases, to the murder of Aleksandar Popovic, one of the institute's physicians.

January 21
The Leskovac magazine Prava Coveka was fined 221,000 dinars (US$14,000) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

January 18
• Nikola Djuric, general manager and chief editor of City Radio in Nis, was convicted of broadcasting a radio program without a license, on the basis of Article 219, paragraph 1, of the Serbian Criminal Code and given a one-year suspended sentence.
• The station was closed by the Ministry of Telecommunications on August 18, 1998, when two policemen entered the studio and seized part of the station's transmitter. City Radio was the first station to face criminal charges in connection with the distribution of frequencies.
• City Radio, like many other independent radio stations in Yugoslavia, had been denied a broadcasting license in a politically based procedure that violated the government's obligations under both domestic and international law. CPJ has repeatedly objected to the politically motivated decision-making process employed by the Ministry of Telecommunications to distribute licenses for private radio and television stations. After a complex and contradictory application process, the ministry has readily given licenses to stations that are either pro-government or provide entertainment, while denying licenses to stations that are independent or report critically on the government. The few independent stations that do get licenses pay disproportionately high fees.

January 5
The Novi Sad magazine Svet was fined 150,000 dinars (US$9400) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.


1998

December 9
The Belgrade daily newspaper Dnevni Telegraf was fined 450,000 dinars (US$28,200) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

November 21
Dnevni Telegraf was fined 380,000 dinars (US$24,000) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

The daily newspaper Zrenjanin was fined 150,000 dinars (US$9400) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

November 17
Sandra Radovanovic, a reporter for the Belgrade newspaper Glas Javnosti, was fined 50,000 dinars (US$3500) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

November 9
Dnevni Telgraf was fined 1.2 million dinars (US$75,000) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

November 7
The daily newspaper Monitor was fined 2.8 million dinars (US$175,000) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

October 24
The weekly newspaper Evropljanin was fined 2.4 million dinars (US$150,000) for violations of the Serbian Information Law.

October 20
The Serbian Parliament passed a new Information Law, codifying many of the provisions of the October 8 decree. It was immediately condemned by local and international organizations concerned with freedom of expression and human rights as incompatible with international freedom of expression guarantees. Since its passage, the law has been used to impose fines equalling more than US$900,000 on newspapers and journalists. The independent media have borne the brunt of over 95 percent of those fines.

The law has also been criticized for stripping the accused of legal safeguards by increasing the speed with which cases are tried and sentences are carried out and by severely limiting the means by which the accused can defend him/herself.

October 8
As the deadline for a ceasefire approached, the government issued new censorship measures. The decree banned any news coverage deemed "unpatriotic," and forbade any reporting that, in the government's view, foments "defeatism, panic and fear" among citizens in the face of possible Western military intervention over Kosovo. It authorized the Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry to close news media after a single warning, and banned the rebroadcasting of programs from foreign news media, including the British Broadcasting Company, Deutsche Welle, Radio France International, Radio Free Europe, and the Voice of America.

Under the decree, the Serbian Information Ministry took the following actions:

• On October 9, two independent radio stations -- the university student-run Radio Index, and Radio Senta, a bilingual station near the Hungarian border -- were taken off the air in retaliation for their criticism of the media crackdown.
• On October 13, the ministry ordered the temporary closure of the independent Belgrade dailies Danas and Dnevni Telegraf. Police seized the Danas' computers and confiscated the entire print run of its October 14 edition. The ministry said the ban on the papers would remain in effect for the life of the decree. This followed their first and only official warnings on October 12.
• On October 7, Dejan Anastasijevic, a reporter with the independent weekly Vreme, was threatened with criminal prosecution for his coverage of war crimes in Kosovo.
• On October 12, the independent daily Nasa Borba was given an official warning.

September 30
Top Serbian government officials and a leading pro-government legislator used a session of the Serbian parliament to warn independent media and other critics of the regime that they would be targeted for reprisal in the event of a NATO air strike. "The Americans found their fifth column here," charged Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj. "It is composed of politically irrelevant parties and independent media. We can't shoot down every NATO plane, but we can grab those agents who are at hand," he said. Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic accused the independent media of spreading lies and fear, while Zeljko Simic, a member of parliament, charged the journalists with "high treason" for aiding Albanian separatists by reporting on the war in Kosovo.

June 6
Nearly 50 correspondents joined a convoy of envoys in a trial run of the so-called Kosovo Observer Mission touring the Kosovo countryside to survey the aftermath of battles between the Serb military and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). As a pool video cameraman walked alongside the convoy filming its approach to Prekaz, a red car with press markings occupied by three men in civilian clothes suddenly swerved toward him, nearly striking him. When the motorcade stopped near the town, two journalists who were part of the pool, Kurt Schork of Reuters and Anthony Lloyd of The Times of London, approached the occupants of the red car to complain about the incident. Schork and Lloyd then turned away and started walking toward the center of town. Several minutes later, one of the red car's occupants grabbed Schork by the shoulder, turned him around and punched him hard in the face. Provoked by the attack, Lloyd then struck the unidentified man, who then retaliated with two karate kicks to Lloyd's chest, breaking two of his ribs. The incident took place in front of the eight foreign envoys on the mission, who identified the occupants of the red car as Serbian special police.

June 22
Correspondent Neils Brinch and camaraman Heinrik Gram of the Danish TV2 station, and an Albanian interpreter who asked not to be identified, were heading back to Pristina in their rented armored car after they were turned away by guards at a KLA checkpoint at Glogovac. The vehicle they rented, painted white, was typical of the kind used by journalists to cover the conflict. The crew felt two shots hit their car, prompting Brinch to stop. A Serb soldier in uniform ran up to their car and pointed his gun at the crew. As soon as Brinch lifted up his arms to show he was unarmed, the soldier started shooting at the crew's car. Brinch sped away from the scene. Although no one was hurt, the crew found 21 bullet holes on the armored vehicle.

May 16
The Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry announced that it had awarded broadcast frequencies to 247 television and radio stations out of 425 that submitted applications. Of these stations, only three independent stations from the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) managed to receive temporary frequencies: Radio B-92, RTV Pancevo, and F Kanal in Zajecar. The other stations granted frequencies were chiefly those which openly supported the Milosevic government or broadcast only entertainment programs.

The ministry failed to explain why another 178 private stations, including 38 ANEM affiliates, were denied frequencies, a decision which effectively bans them. All the members of ANEM submitted identical applications, yet only three were selected. Radio B92 alone submitted four applications, including two for radio frequencies, one for television, and one for a satellite uplink. Yet it was awarded only one radio frequency. The ministry also announced it will charge stations that won frequencies monthly fees for their use that could range from US$12,000 to US$15,000 in local currency. Many station managers who won frequencies have said they may be forced to refuse them, because the fees exceed their total monthly incomes.

April 21
The Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry ordered TV Pirot closed and confiscated the station's equipment, saying that the station was not properly licensed. This action came just weeks before the May 15 deadline for public disclosure of the Telecommunications Ministry's decision on granting licenses to independent television and radio stations throughout the country. According to legal experts at the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), the station's application met the legal requirements for licensing and was submitted on time.

March 21
Peter Lippman, a Seattle-based journalist, was among six American peace activists jailed for two days by Yugoslav authorities in Kosovo. The six Americans, including Lippman, were arrested and sentenced to 10-day jail terms for failing to register with local police during their stay in the troubled province, a rarely-enforced law. They were freed two days later following protests by the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.

March 19
At least two television cameramen working for Western news agencies were beaten by plainclothes policemen while attempting to film mass demonstrations in Pristina. Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian camera operator working for Reuters TV, was attacked as he shot footage of a weeping Albanian woman who said she was struck by police during a rally. Protsyuk fell to the ground and his video camera was smashed. The assailants repeatedly punched him in the face until his producer, Glen Felgate, managed to pull him away. He suffered minor injuries. Michel Rouserez, a cameraman for RTBF, French-language Belgian Radio-Television, was assaulted while covering a demonstration near the University of Pristina. He was hospitalized as a result of the incident. The Associated Press reported that two other journalists working for Western news agencies were attacked on the same day, but their correspondent in Pristina had no details.

March 10-11
The editors of five independent dailies in Belgrade were called in for questioning by the city prosecutor's office in an apparent act of intimidation in response to their coverage of the conflict in Kosovo. Mjedrak Tmusic, the Belgrade city prosecutor, accused the editors of Danas, Blic, Dnevni Telegraf, Demokratiya and Nasa Borba of encouraging terrorism in the Kosovo by referring to the Albanians killed by police as "victims" or simply "Albanians," rather than as "terrorists" in their headlines. Serbian authorities and regime-controlled media openly called on the press to give only the official interpretation of events and use ethnic slurs against Albanians, reminiscent of the hate speech spread by the regime to foment the conflict in Bosnia.

March 2
At least six journalists were beaten covering public protests against the Yugoslav authority's crackdown on Albanian separatists in Kosovo, among them Agron Bajrami, a cultural editor at the Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore. That day, the independent newspaper's Prishtina offices were ransacked, and several staff members were beaten. Police searched for the video camera and tapes of police attacking against demonstrators filmed by the paper's camaraman, Fatos Berisha, who fell out a second-story window as he fled from them. He was hospitalized with a broken leg. In subsequent weeks, reporters from Koha Ditore and other news media were threatened and harassed while covering demonstrations. Koha Ditore also endured several random financial inspections by various government agencies. Reporters and camera crews were barred from areas were the police raids took place for several days.

Like this article? Support our work