Yugoslavia: Opposition TV station raided

New York, March 7, 2000 — After a pre-dawn raid in which two employees were injured and transmission equipment stolen, the opposition station Studio B Television faced concerted legal harassment last night in Belgrade.

At approximately 3 a.m. local time, five men wearing Serbian police uniforms forced their way into the Torlak broadcasting center, assaulted two security guards, and confiscated transmission equipment belonging to Studio B and the independent station Radio B2-92. Both stations were abruptly knocked off the air. Equipment belonging to other stations that broadcast from the same facility, such as Belgrade’s BK Television, was untouched.

“The reason for the break-in was to disable TV Studio B,” said Dusan Markovic, the station’s technical director.

A few hours after the attack, Telecommunications Minister Ivan Markovic ordered Studio B to pay a fine of 11 million dinars (US$850,000), for alleged broadcasting license violations. The station was told to pay within eight days or face suspension of its license. According to Dusan Markovic, the station has already been issued a valid 10-year license and is under no obligation to pay the fine.

Studio B was also ordered to pay 450,000 dinars (US$40,000) in fines resulting from a lawsuit brought by Branko Djuric, chief of the Belgrade police department. Djuric accused the station of violating the country’s Information Law by broadcasting comments which implicated him in an alleged assassination attempt against the station’s director, Vuk Draskovic, who also serves as the head of the country’s main opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement.

On October 3, a truck swerved into Draskovic’s car, injuring him and killing his brother-in-law and three others. Draskovic claims Djuric was somehow behind the attack.

According to an article in the independent newspaper Blic, the station argues that it should not be held responsible “for what other people may say in a live broadcast.”

“The attack on Studio B is an attack on the symbol of this city,” said Gordana Susa, President of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, adding that this is the first time the government of President Slobodan Milosevic has simultaneously used the Information Law, licensing regulations, and physical violence against a media outlet.

At a protest meeting held at the station last night, members of Serbia’s independent media condemned the attack, seen as the government’s latest attempt to stifle independent journalism during the run-up to local and federal elections scheduled for later this year.

“We will defend ourselves using all available means,” said Studio B’s director, Dragan Kojainovic. The station could face closure if it is unable to pay the fines.