TV editor convicted in criminal defamation case

New York, August 15, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a television editor’s court conviction on a criminal defamation charge. The municipal court in the southern city of Prokuplje upheld a lower court ruling against Slavko Savic, senior editor of the local television station RTV Kursumlija.

The court, ruling on August 10, sentenced Savic to a suspended prison term and one year of probation for defaming Slavko Ilic, a Kursumlija parliament member, in broadcasts in March and April 2005. The broadcasts displayed text messages sent anonymously from viewers who alleged Ilic had stolen a bottle of grape brandy, according to local press reports.

Savic told the independent Belgrade radio station B92 that the government was retaliating for his critical reporting. “With this conviction they are trying to silence every criticism,” said Savic, who also faces a second defamation case. Kursumlija Municipal Parliament President Slavoljub Carapic filed a civil lawsuit against the editor and RTV Kursumlija. Details of the complaint have not been made public.

In a separate development, Parliament recently passed a measure that would enable the Republican Broadcasting Agency, a government-appointed regulator, to revoke licenses unilaterally and without avenue for appeal. The broadly written bill, adopted July 19, could allow the agency to act selectively, according to a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), a Belgrade-based media organization.

On July 27, Serbian President Boris Tadic sent the measure back to Parliament for revision saying that its current form would compromise independent journalism. Parliament has yet to review the bill, local and international press reports said.

“Journalists should not face criminal penalties for their work,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on lawmakers to decriminalize defamation and to reject the amendments to the country’s broadcasting law in their current form.”