Yugoslavia: Economic crackdown on press continues

New York, December 10, 1999 — In the latest official crackdown on local independent media organizations, financial police blocked accounts and froze assets of the Belgrade daily, Glas Javnosti, and of a printing company, ABC Grafika, this week. The organizations are charged with failing to pay taxes, a claim both deny.

Managers at the newspaper and the printing company say their financial affairs are in order, and insist the government is trying to “financially exhaust” them for political reasons. Glas Javnosti is a leading independent daily, and ABC Grafika provides printing services for many Serbian independent newspapers and opposition political groups.

Meanwhile, heavy fines imposed on two newspapers and a television station earlier this week are beginning to take their toll. The Belgrade daily newspapers Blic and Danas and the Studio B television station were fined a total of 970,000 dinars (about $30,000 at the prevailing rate of exchange, and $84,500 at the official rate) in a defamation case brought against them under the repressive Serbian Information Law.

Each organization paid the fines, but local journalists fear economic pressure may yet put them out of business. On Friday, Danas’ management announced it was increasing the price of the newspaper from six to seven dinars because of the fine. In the past two years, numerous Yugoslav media organizations have been forced out of business by similar fines: the daily newspapers Nasa Borba, Dnevni Telegraf, and NT Plus, the weekly Evropljanin, and about ten radio and television stations.

“The Serbian authorities are using economic pressure to choke press freedom,” said CPJ’s Executive Director Ann K. Cooper. “Journalists cannot work freely when accounts are frozen and arbitrary fines imposed.”