CPJ Update:Censorship in Yugoslavia

March 31, 1999 — A systematic campaign of state censorship implemented since the onset of the NATO bombings has nearly silenced Yugoslavia’s independent media, previously among the most vocal opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic.

Because of the fear of reprisal, many of CPJ’s sources in the Yugoslav media have requested that neither their names nor their affiliation be made public. However, through extensive interviews, CPJ has been able to document how censorship is imposed.

Print Media All of the print media in Yugoslavia now operate under formal censorship. On March 24, just as NATO began its bombing campaign, Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic called a meeting with the editors of all major newspapers in Belgrade, and announced that henceforth only officially authorized language could be used to describe certain events. For example, NATO must be described as the “aggressor,” and the air strikes as “aggression” against the Yugoslav state.

Since the meeting, print media have been ordered to submit all copy to Vucic and his deputy Radmila Visic for approval. Newspapers are only allowed to publish official statements and information taken from Yugoslavia’s news wires which are either controlled by the state or are practicing self-censorship in the current conditions. Media are limited in their ability to cite NATO or the U.S. State Department.

As a result of the new censorship policies, journalists are restricted in the sources that they can use in their reporting. Foreign sources are rarely quoted, and the official Yugoslav sources that can be used do not discuss the extent of the casualties and the damage caused by the bombing. There is also an effective blackout of news from Kosovo. Journalists in Belgrade are unable to confirm details on the situation in Kosovo since most of their colleagues in Pristina have been forced to flee. While censorship is not as visible as the shutdowns, detentions and fines imposed last week, the overall effect of censorship is equally if not more debilitating for the independent media.

Broadcast Media: While broadcast media have not been subject to the same kind of official censorship as print media, self-censorship has become pervasive among broadcast journalists who have seen the consequences of defying the government’s restrictions on news. Yugoslav Army Headquarters has been their only source of information on the NATO strikes cited on television and the radio. CPJ is attempting to verify reports that Information Ministry representatives have been present in the studio during broadcasts.

In other developments

  • On March 30, three foreign journalists were detained for over six hours in the Serbian city of Uzice. R. Jeffrey Smith, a correspondent of The Washington Post, David Holley of The Los Angeles Times and Lori Montgomery, Knight-Ridder’s Berlin bureau chief, were questioned, had their car and belongings searched, and were then escorted to the border with Republika Srpska. They reported that visas issued by the Interior Ministry are no longer valid and that all visas to enter Yugoslavia and to cover the conflict must be issued by the military.
  • On March 30, police entered the offices of Radio B-92 in Belgrade and made a list of names and addresses of all employees. No explanation was given and the police left without taking further action.
  • U.S. and ethnic Albanian sources have reported that Baton Haxhiu, the editor in chief of the Albanian-language daily Koha Ditore is still alive. NATO had previously stated that Haxhiu was murdered by Serbian forces on March 29. We are encouraged by these recent reports and are seeking independent confirmation.

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