Attacks on the Press 2002: Yugoslavia

During 2002, the intense political and personal rivalry between Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, a conservative nationalist, and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic, a pragmatic reformist, consumed politics in Serbia, the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation. The conflict, which stalled government reforms, was further complicated
by negotiations between the two Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro on transforming the Yugoslav federation into a union of two sovereign states. The possibility that the Yugoslav presidency would no longer exist forced Kostunica to run for the Serbian presidency in the fall against a Djindjic ally, Miroslav Labus. Voter apathy was so high that neither candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the electorate, leaving the presidency empty at year’s end.

Politicians from the coalition of ruling parties, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), were far less heavy-handed with the press than their predecessors under former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. But DOS leaders have not hesitated to use subtle forms of pressure, such as threatening phone calls and intimidating police interviews, with independent media that do not embrace their policies.

ýimited progress was made in reforming outdated Milosevic-era media regulatory laws, which had allowed large pro-government media outlets to retain national broadcasting licenses. In early July, the government reformulated a draft Broadcasting Law, which would establish an independent broadcasting agency to supervise the broadcast media and transform state-run Radio Television Serbia (RTS) into a more independent public broadcasting service, in order to assert more government control over the agency’s executive council. Despite protests from broadcast associations, Parliament approved the measure on July 19. Legislators, however, missed an October deadline to appoint members to the Broadcast Agency Council.

Legislative reform stalled, with the government failing to pass new laws on telecommunications, public information, and defamation. The lack of political will to pass these measures and reform institutions hampered democratization. As a result, journalists reporting on politically sensitive issues such as government corruption, organized crime, and war crimes remained vulnerable to harassment and intimidation from politicians, businessmen, and law enforcement officials.

Impunity for killing journalists also remains a serious problem. Officials made no progress in their investigations into the June 2001 murder of Milan Pantic, a crime reporter for the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti, and the April 1999 assassination of Dnevni Telegraf editor-in-chief Slavko Curuvija.

In May, the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists announced its support for legislation to establish a process for identifying journalists who promoted war crimes and ethnic cleansing during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo in the 1990s. While the initiative is unpopular with citizens who are anxious to put the past behind them, independent journalists are frustrated that DOS has allowed most of Milosevic’s war propagandists to remain in senior positions in the state broadcast and print media in exchange for their loyalty and political support.

Serbian authorities made some progress in dealing with abuses committed against the media under Milosevic. On June 21, a district court sentenced Dragoljub Milanovic, the former director of RTS, to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate employees from the RTS building in Belgrade during NATO air strikes in April 1999, which resulted in the deaths of 16 people. Milanovic was accused of intentionally placing low-level employees at risk in an effort to increase the number of civilian casualties and discredit NATO.

The Kostunica-Djindjic rivalry spilled over into the media through the Serbian government’s Communications Bureau, a public relations office created by Djindjic in the winter of 2001 to replace the notorious Information Ministry. Djindjic’s propaganda chief, Vladimir “Beba” Popovic, used the office to discredit Djindjic’s rivals by leaking to loyal media outlets secret-police files that contained incriminating or damaging information. In some cases, Popovic bullied journalists who criticized Djindjic. In mid-September, for example, Popovic was accused of organizing a smear campaign in the local media accusing Veran Matic, editor-in-chief of Belgrade radio station B92, of illegally privatizing the broadcaster. Two media outlets allied with Djindjic, TVBK and TV Pink, gave the story prime-time news coverage. The smear campaign against Matic and the popular B92 was seen as an effort by authorities to punish the station for maintaining an independent editorial policy and diluting the government’s influence over the broadcast media.

Only foreign pressure seemed to temper the government’s hostility toward B92. In response to U.S. diplomatic efforts, Serbian authorities granted B92 temporary frequencies in August, allowing it to expand its audience from greater Belgrade to just over half of Serbia. U.S. influence also forced Djindjic to fire Popovic on October 25.

In the fall, the media largely focused on Milosevic’s trial at the U.N. International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. In October, two Serbian journalists–Jovan Dulovic and Dejan Anastasijevic, both of the Belgrade weekly Vreme–received death threats for testifying against Milosevic. In a controversial move, both revealed the sources for some of their articles in order to establish that Milosevic exercised command responsibility during a massacre in the Croatian city of Vukovar.

Meanwhile, security conditions remained dangerous in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo, which the United Nations currently administers. Journalists reported physical threats and intimidation from political parties and organized crime figures over reports on human rights abuses and corruption. As Montenegro struggled to decide whether to stay in the Yugoslav federation with Serbia or become an independent state, the media there became mouthpieces for various politicians, sabotaging the possibility of public debate.

January 27

Stevan Niksic, NIN

Niksic, editor-in-chief of the Belgrade-weekly NIN, was found guilty of criminal libel and sentenced to a five-month suspended prison sentence by the First Municipal Court in the capital, Belgrade, according to Serbian press reports. Aleksa Djilas, son of the late Milovan Djilas, a former senior communist official and later a dissident, filed the lawsuit against Niksic for publishing a letter in NIN in 2000 from a reader who criticized Milovan. The letter’s publication followed an edition of the weekly in which Milovan was interviewed.

March 11


Milo Djukanovic, the president of the Montenegrin republic of Yugoslavia, ordered that the entire print run of the March 11 edition of the Podgorica daily Publika, which is close to Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, be destroyed and replaced with a new edition after noticing an article he found offensive, according to local press reports.

Copies of the daily had been brought to a dinner at the Montenegro Hotel in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, and distributed to guests. Djukanovic ordered copies collected from the dinner and destroyed, according to sources there, after reading an article in the paper in which a close business associate, Veselin Barovic, said he would not support the dinner because he disagreed with the policies of U.S. ambassador William Montgomery, a co-sponsor of the evening’s event. The complete run of 7,000 copies was destroyed and replaced by a new edition without the article that offended Djukanovic.

April 24

Vladislav Asanin, Dan

A court in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, which, along with Serbia, is one of Yugoslavia’s two republics, upheld the sentence and conviction of Asanin, editor-in-chief of the Podgorica daily Dan. The journalist was originally convicted of criminal libel
and sentenced to three months in prison in December 2001, but he appealed the ruling.

In 2001, Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic sued Asanin after Dan reprinted a series of articles from the Croatian weekly Nacional linking Djukanovic to illegal cigarette smuggling in the Balkans.

Asanin appealed the April conviction and also resigned as Dan‘s editor-in-chief. On November 19, the High Court in Podgorica upheld the conviction and sentenced Asanin to 30 days in prison. He appealed the November conviction and remained free at year’s end pending a decision on the appeal, which had not yet been heard.

May 15

Zeljko Bodrozic, Kikindske Novine

Bodrozic, editor-in-chief of newspaper Kikindske Novine, was convicted of libel and fined 10,000 Yugoslav dinars (US$150) by a court in the northern Serbian town of Kikinda, according to local press reports. Dmitar Segrt, general manager of the Toza Markovic construction material factory, sued Bodrozic after he wrote in the January 11, 2002, edition of Kikindske Novine that Segrt, once a close ally of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, had transformed himself into a reformist with close ties to the new government.

Workers from Segrt’s factory were waiting outside the courthouse when the verdict was read, and they attacked the editor when he emerged from the building. Bodrozic suffered a neck injury as a result of the incident.

Sead Krpuljevic, Monitor

Krpuljevic, a photographer for the independent Podgorica weekly Monitor, was attacked by members of the pro-Belgrade Socialist People’s Party (SNP) when he was standing in front of party headquarters in the central Montenegrin city of Niksic on the night of local elections, according to local press reports. SNP supporters hit Krpuljevic several times and pushed him into the building, where party officials confiscated his film and then released him.

May 25

Vojkan Ristic, BETA
Liljana Stojanovic, Glas Javnosti
Radomir Ilic, B92

Ilic, of the Belgrade-based independent radio station B92; Ristic, of the Belgrade-based independent news agency BETA, and Stojanovic, of the independent Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti, were detained by a group of ethnic Albanian men from a local militia for an hour in the southern Serbian village of Veliki Trnovac.

The journalists were prevented from attending and reporting on a ceremony in the local stadium commemorating the first anniversary of the death of Ridvam Qazimi, commonly known as Leshi, a prominent commander of the disbanded Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac who had died fighting Serbian forces in 2001. The journalists were released and allowed to attend the ceremony after they called international officials and Serbian government representatives to protest their detention.

May 31

BK Television

Officials at the National Bank of Yugoslavia (NBJ) prevented BK Television journalists and cameramen from entering the NBJ building in the capital, Belgrade, to attend a bank news conference, according to local press reports. NBJ also issued a statement saying that BK Television was being denied further access to bank information because of the station’s alleged lack of professionalism and bias. The incident came after a recent BK Television report criticized the policies of NBJ governor Mladjan Dinkic. NBJ changed its policy the next week, in early June, and allowed BK Television to attend its press conferences.

June 13


The Lower Court in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, found the Podgorica daily Dan guilty of defaming Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic in a series of articles claiming that he was involved in a Balkan tobacco smuggling ring. The paper was ordered to pay him 15,550 euros (US$14,600) in damages. The articles making the allegations, which Djukanovic has denied, originally appeared in the independent Croatian weekly Nacional in the summer of 2001. Other Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin media outlets had reported the story, while prosecutors in the Italian port city of Bari formally opened an investigation into the accusations in May 2002.

July 12

Vladimir Radomirovic, Reporter

Radomirovic, editor-in-chief of the Belgrade weekly Reporter, was threatened and questioned by police about his sources for an article in the July 2 edition of the paper, according to local press reports. Plainclothes detectives from the Serbian Interior Ministry arrived at the Reporter newsroom on July 11 with a summons requesting that Radomirovic visit the Secretariat for Internal Affairs in Belgrade the following day for questioning. When Radomirovic refused to sign the summons, the detectives threatened to arrest him. But after consulting with his lawyer, the editor agreed to be questioned.

On July 12, he went to the secretariat, where officers threatened and questioned him about an article reporting that the Serbian government’s Communication Bureau had surveillance equipment that had been used to monitor the office of Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica. Radomirovic told the independent Radio B92 station that he refused to reveal the story’s sources.

October 10

Dejan Anastasijevic, Vreme

Anastasijevic, a correspondent for the respected Belgrade weekly Vreme, received death threats by telephone after testifying against former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic at the U.N. International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, according to international reports. Anastasijevic testified about a massacre of civilians committed by Yugoslav soldiers in the Croatian city of Vukovar.

October 16

Jovan Dulovic, Vreme

Dulovic, a correspondent for the Belgrade weekly Vreme, and his family received death threats after Dulovic testified against former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic at the U.N. International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, according to international reports. Dulovic provided detailed evidence that Yugoslav soldiers and members of Serbian paramilitary forces executed civilians in the Croatian city of Vukovar.

During the war in Croatia, Dulovic worked for the pro-Milosevic newspaper Politika Ekspes and, as a result, had greater access to the battlefield and was more trusted by Yugoslav soldiers and members of Serbian paramilitary units.