Government imposes media restrictions following premier’s assassination

New York, March 13, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned that under the state of emergency declared in Serbia on Wednesday, March 12, following the assassination that day of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic, restrictions have been placed on the media.

Natasa Micic, president of the Serbian National Assembly and currently acting president of Serbia, declared a state of emergency yesterday afternoon after Djindjic was fatally shot by a sniper in the center of Serbia’s capital, Belgrade.

“I am asking the Army of Serbia and Montenegro, security forces, the judiciary, all media and political parties to unite around these goals [to arrest the assassins]…,” Micic said in a statement, Radio Belgrade reported. “These measure will remain in force…until the assassins have been arrested.”

Article 9 of Micic’s executive order states that, “Public information, distribution of press and other information about the reasons for the declaration of the state of emergency is prohibited, excluding carrying the official statements of competent government agencies.” The order requires the Ministry of Culture enforce the media restrictions in cooperation with the Interior Ministry but does not specify sanctions for outlets that violate Article 9.

“During this period of crisis, CPJ calls on the Serbian government to facilitate the free flow of information,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon, “Timely reporting on unfolding events can help the people of Serbia better understand these recent events and make more informed decisions.”

Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac met with the editors-in-chief of Belgrade-based media outlets yesterday evening to provide recommendations on news reporting during the state of emergency, the Belgrade-based Association for Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) reported.

Korac asked editors to report only on official announcements from government agencies, representatives of political parties, or press conferences and requested that the media refrain from reporting on “the reactions of those who will be arrested, their lawyers, and analysts who could complicate the arrests,” according to ANEM.

CPJ sources in Belgrade said the media restrictions are not as broad as they sound and appear aimed at journalists and media outlets linked to Djindjic’s alleged assassins—former special operations commander Milorad Lukovic and members of the powerful Zemun mafia clan.

“I hope that the state of emergency will end in several days, as was promised to us,” Dragan Janjic, editor-in-chief of Belgrade’s independent news agency Beta, told CPJ in a telephone interview today. “If it lasts longer, it could lead to pressure on the media not to publish certain types of material.”