CPJ Update: Crackdown on the Independent Media in Yugoslavia

March 28,1999 — Long before the initiation of NATO air strikes, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has systematically targeted the independent media in Yugoslavia. In the past few days he has stepped up this repression. Several independent radio stations were banned, a Pristina-based independent newspaper was forcibly closed down and independent journalists were harassed and threatened for the slightest criticism of Milosevic’s actions.

This alert presents media violations, documented by CPJ, from March 23-27, 1999. CPJ will continue to issue updates on the plight of the independent media in Yugoslavia.

March 27

  • The Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry banned the broadcasts of Television Soko, an ANEM affiliate in the eastern Serbia town of Soko Banja. The ban was issued after the television station re-broadcast segments of foreign programs.
  • Dragoslav Rancic, a reporter for the Belgrade weekly magazine Nin, was arrested at 3 a.m. Stevan Niksic, the chief editor of the magazine, was summoned by police later that morning. Both Rancic and Niksic were released on March 28. They were detained in connection with an article written by Rancic which called into question President Milosevic’s negotiating tactics

March 26

  • Independent newspapers in Belgrade reported difficulty in acquiring newsprint. Most had to either stop printing or drastically reduce their content and circulation. The daily Vreme was down to 16 pages, while the daily Glas Javnosti was down to 8 pages from the usual 24. The daily Dnevni Telegraph, which for the past several months had been smuggled in from Zagreb, is no longer publishing.

March 28

  • The Serbian Minister of Information Alexander Vucic issued a statement ordering all foreign correspondents from NATO countries to leave Serbia. The statement said that the journalists had “instigated NATO’s aggressive activities which were aimed at destroying the constitutional order and territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia and of misinforming the world.” This decree conflicted with statements from the Yugoslav government which indicated that foreign journalists were welcome to stay as long as their reporting was objective. Many foreign correspondents were detained overnight, threatened and forced to leave, while others left on their own accord after hearing the statement from the Ministry. By the end of the day, nearly all foreign correspondents had left the country.
  • The Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore in Pristina was shut down by the Serbian police, who killed the security guard before ransacking the offices. Veton Surroi, the newspaper’s editor and one of the signatories of the Rambouillet peace accord, went into hiding. Bajram Kelmendi, a prominent ethnic Albanian human rights lawyer who represented Koha Ditore, and his two sons, Kustrim and Kastriot, were forcibly taken from their home by Serbian police, who broke in and ransacked the house. All three were found dead the next day with bullet shots to the head.
  • The Novi Sad-based Radio 021, an ANEM affiliate, was banned. The ban was imposed on the grounds that the radio station had allegedly failed to pay a tax of the equivalent of several hundred dollars in February.

March 24

  • At 2:50 a.m., Radio B92, the Belgrade-based independent station, was banned from further broadcasts. Two inspectors 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. They 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 immediate 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 [inspectors] 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.
  • At about 3 a.m., just after the ban’s imposition, Veran Matic, Radio B92’s chief editor and chairman of the Association of Independent Electronic Media (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.

March 23

  • According to ANEM, Television Studio B and its editor Dragan Kojadinovic were fined a total of 150,000 dinars (approx. US$10,000) for violation of the Serbian Information Law. The fines were imposed in connection with a Studio B broadcast which allegedly insulting Brana Miljus, a former nominee for the post of prime minister of Serbia.

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