Board member Kati Marton meets with Belgrade journalists and officials

Belgrade, May 8, 2001 ­ In response to new challenges faced by the independent media in post-Milosevic Serbia, Kati Marton, a board member of the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), met for two days of consultations with journalists and government officials in Belgrade.

“We are very happy that there is a new atmosphere of increased freedom for independent journalists in Serbia, and that important progress has been made by the new government,” said Marton. “Our concern now is how the media can stay independent. This is a key time for the government to make a clear break with the past and help create such conditions, as well as for the media to play a more assertive role in the country’s long delayed

Accompanied by CPJ Europe program coordinator Alex Lupis, Marton met with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, Yugoslav Telecommunications Minister Boris Tadic, and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac to discuss the federal and republic level governments’ media reforms.

In these meetings, Marton noted the government’s favorable decision to nullify restrictive sections of the Serbian Public Information Law, the prosecutor’s recent decision to drop the case against the journalist
Miroslav Filipovic, the government’s commitment to return confiscated equipment to media outlets, and the government’s commitment to allow media outlets to utilize previously paid financial penalties towards future tax

Among the specific recommendations Marton conveyed to the government officials were the following:

1) Federal Minister for Telecommunication Boris Tadic was encouraged to establish a transparent process with clear criteria for the allocation of radio and television frequencies in a timely manner, to ensure that the allocation of frequencies provides a broad range of views for citizens nationwide, and to arrange for a rigorous audit of private media outlets that improperly benefited from years of regulatory advantages and financial subsidies under the Milosevic regime.

2) The government as a whole ­ and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, in particular ­ should do more to support independent journalists and media outlets who are supporting broader political reforms and reconciliation by investigating war crimes and corruption. They missed an opportunity to do so when TV B-92 received threats in April for showing a BBC documentary about war crimes committed in Srebrenica.

3) We encourage Serbian Minister of Interior Dusan Mihajlovic to proceed without delay in investigating the shameful and tragic murder of Slavko Curuvija. One year after his murder, we must do more than just honor a slain colleague. The government must build a strong case so that his murderers are brought to justice in the near future.

4) We also call upon Serbian Minister of Interior Dusan Mihajlovic to open a formal investigation into a possible Serbian role in the October 1999 assassination attempt against Zeljko Kopanja, the editor-in-chief of the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine.

5) In the interest of supporting Serbia’s vibrant community of independent journalists beyond the current post-Milosevic transition period, we call upon Serbian Minister for Justice Vladan Batic to legally recognize the
Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) as having equal rights to the material benefits and legal and administrative privileges provided to the state-led Association of Independent Journalists (UNS).

6) We urge the government to begin reforming state-run and state-affiliated media outlets, and to transform them into public service media outlets that are insulated from political influence.

“Journalists also have a new responsibility in Serbia,” said Marton. “Exposing corruption in the economy and dealing with the most painful story of all ­ that of accounting for the past ­ should be high on the
journalists’ agenda.”

Marton and Lupis will be traveling to Sarajevo to meet with journalists and international and government officials to discuss press freedom conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.