Chokehold on Serbia

CPJ documents Milesovic’s attempts to throttle the independent media. Including breaking news, bulletins, and background.

Text of Serbian Information Law
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April 6 The upper six floors of a 13-storey building in Novi Sad, capital of the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina caught fire in the afternoon. Those floors housed six media offices, those of Radio 021, TV Duga, TV Melos, Radio Signal, the Novi Sad office of the independent Belgrade daily Danas and the correspondent’s office of TV Montenegro. One person, who has not been identified, died and a dozen were slightly injured in the fire. The probable cause of the fire was a poorly installed power supply and installation system, but so far an investigation has not shown conclusive evidence. Damage totaling US$3.5 million was incurred, according to the mayor of Novi Sad, Stevan Vrbaski. Novi Sad is one of fifteen large towns in Serbia which are run by opposition parties.

April 6 Niske Novine, a daily newspaper based in the southern Serbian town of Nis, was fined 300,000 dinars (US$25,8000), The paper’s editor-in-chief, Miroslav Zupanjevac, was fined 100,000 (US$8,600). Niske Novine was fined under the Public Information Law for its February 29 press conference report on the mobilization of army reservists in southern Serbia. The suit was brought to the court by a local office of the Yugoslav Army, which objected to an article in the newspaper entitled ÔWe are raising our voices against war’ which included quotes from the press conference.

April 10 Charges were brought against Belgrade opposition-controlled Studio B by police chief Branko Djuric for allegedly slanderous reports broadcast April 2. The station was fined 450,000 dinars (US$38,800) for reports which described Djuric’s presence at the site of an October 3 car crash that killed four officials of the Serbian Renewal Movement. The report said that Djuric was at the site only 10 minutes after the crash, arriving before the ambulance. Studio B claimed also quoted him commenting: “the scum is still alive,” referring to the survival of Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement who was slightly injured in the accident.

April 12 The Belgrade weekly Vreme was fined 150,000 dinars (US$12,900), and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Filip Svarm and manager Dragoljub Zarkovic were each fined 100,000 dinars (US$8,600) under the Public Information Law for an article claiming that a theater director had been wrongfully dismissed. The charges were brought by Serbian Culture Minister, Zeljko Simic, over an interview published with a former director of the Belgrade National Theater on February 26.

April 13 Six foreign journalists (four Japanese, one Canadian and one German) were denied entry into Yugoslavia. Their intention was to cover an opposition rally planned for the next day. The Canadian and German journalists all had valid visas, and visas are not required for Japanese visitors. Nonetheless, police at Belgrade airport (which re-opened for international traffic in March) confiscated the journalists’ passports and ordered them to leave the country the next day on return flights.

April 14 Jamming of the signal of Belgrade opposition television station Studio B intensified. About two million regional viewers were unable to receive the station’s transmissions, after power was cut to a transmission facility. Signal disruption meant that the stations’ signal was also unreadable in parts of Belgrade. The station’s director, Dragan Kojadinovic said on independent radio B2-92 that the authorities goal was to prevent people from watching coverage of the opposition rally in Belgrade.

April 17 A rocket-propelled grenade hit an apartment building in Pristina, capital of the Kosovo province, shortly before midnight. The balcony next to the apartment used by Radio Contact, Kosovo’s only multiethnic radio station, was hit. Staff at Radio Contact were in the course of holding a meeting when the grenade hit, and were evacuated by United Nations police. The Beta news agency reported that 2 people injured in the blast had been taken to hospital, and that the station’s editorial team had been placed under heavy protection by KFOR and the premises sealed.

Radio Contact staff say they are convinced they were the target of the attack, and say it was only the latest in a series of intimidating attacks by Albanians who object to the multiethnic nature of the stations programming which includes broadcasts in Serbian as well as in Albanian and Turkish.

April 18 The independent news agency Beta was fined 150,000 dinars (US$12,900) under Article 11 and Article 69 of the Public Information Law for damaging the honor and reputation of Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic. The agency’s director, Radomir Draklic, and its chief editor, Ljubica Markovic, were each fined 80,000 dinars (US$6,900). Matic filed a complaint for an item published April 12, in which the agency stated that Matic was the owner of a provincial radio station, and for publishing the question “Goran Matic, who killed Slavko Curuvija?” in a dispatch addressed to the minister by members of the Otpor student movement. (Curuvija, the editor of Dnevni Telegraf, was killed by unidentified gunmen in Belgrade on April 11, 1999). Beta admitted having wrongly attributed ownership of the provincial radio station (it is in fact owned by the Socialist Party of Slobodan Milosevic, not by the information minister himself), but defense attorneys said they did not believe the minister’s dignity had been violated.

Similar charges against the weekly magazine Blic, for carrying the Beta report, were dropped by the city magistrate in court.

April 20 The weekly Kikindske Novine in the town of Kikinda in the Vijvodina region was fined 200,000 dinars (US$17,300) under the Public Information Law after being convicted on charges brought by Rajko Popovic, an official of the local Socialist Party of Serbia who edits a state media network weekly magazine, Kikindska Komuna. Dusan Francuski, director of the company Dom Omladine, which publishes Kikindske Novine, was fined 100,000 dinars (US$8,600). Two members of the paper’s management were fined 50,000 dinars (US$4,300) each.

Popovic sued the newspaper after it published a press release of the Independent Association of Vojvodina Journalists entitled “Stop Rajko Popovic,” which described Popovic as “an unprecedented tell-tale” and said that “journalism in Vojvodina has had enough of him.” Several fines have already been imposed on Kikindske Novine on charges brought by Popovic and the total to date is 1,080,000 dinars ($93,100).

April 22 Taro Konoshi, a reporter for the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun, was fined 6,000 dinars (US$520) for not having an entry stamp in his passport. At the court hearing, a Belgrade magistrate also ordered Konoshi to leave the country. Konoshi reportedly crossed the border from Montenegro to Yugoslavia on April 21, when a border guard forgot to stamp his passport. He was arrested the next day when he tried to depart from Belgrade airport on a London-bound flight.

May 4 Magistrates in Pozarevac, the hometown of President Slobodan Milosevic fined the opposition television station Studio B 450,000 dinars (US$38,800) and its editor Dragan Kojadinovic a further 150,000 (US$12,900) in connection with a Studio B report broadcast May 2. The item detailed the alleged beating of three members of the student opposition movement Otpor (“Resistance”) by bodyguards of Marko Milosevic, the president’s son, on May 2, in Pozarevac. The fight took place in front of a Pozarevac café called Pasaz.

Studio B was sued under the Information Law by Dr. Vladimir Djukic, head of the Belgrade Emergency Health Center, who said the station had misreported the medical condition of one of the beaten Otpor students, Radojko Lukovic.

May 5 The daily Blic and the weekly Vreme were fined for reporting the alleged beating of the three Otpor (“Resistance”) members on May 2. The fine for Blic was 200,000 dinars (US$17,200) and for the paper’s editor-in-chief Veselin Simonovic 80,000 dinars (US$6,900). The fine for Vreme was 200,000 dinars (US$17,200); the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Dragoljub Zarkovic, escaped a fine because of a procedural error. Both publications were sued by Bojan Tadic of Pozarevac, one of the men who allegedly beat the Otpor students. He objected to the publication’s report that the fight broke out when he and a number of associates tried to persuade an Otpor member to renounce his membership in the student opposition movement.

June 2 The Belgrade independent weekly NIN was fined 230,000 dinars (US$19,100) under the Serbian Information Law for a June 3, 1999, article titled “Cry for the unborn.” Writing about the health situation in Yugoslavia during last year’s NATO air strikes, the author quoted a woman whose Belgrade doctor had allegedly advised her to terminate her pregnancy due to high pollution levels at the time of the air raids. The doctor subsequently sued NIN for slander under the Information Law.

The newspaper was fined 150,000 dinars (US$12,500), and its editor-in-chief Stevan Niksic was fined 80,000 dinars (US$6,600). Niksic claimed the fine was political, saying that the doctor had refused to allow the weekly to print a correction or publish a clarifying article.

June 3 The Zajecar District Court sentenced Dusica Radulovic, director of the newspaper Borske Novine in the southern Serbian town of Bor, to three months in prison for publishing an article about Socialist Party of Serbia spokesman Nikola Sainovic. According to reports from the Belgrade-based Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), she was convicted of insulting Sainovic and other Bor municipal officials in articles published in 1997 and 1998.

June 12
Reporters and photographers from the opposition and independent Belgrade newspapers Blic, Danas, and Glas Javnosti, along with the news agencies Beta and FoNet, were barred from attending a session of the Serbian Parliament. Police at the building’s entrance told the journalists that their requests for accreditation had not been received on time, a charge they denied. The president of the parliamentary Administrative Committee, Serbian Radical Party member Dragan Ljubojevic, asked “representatives of the media of traitors” to leave the session, and named all the above media outlets.

June 12 Reporters from the Belgrade dailies Danas, Blic, and Glas Javnosti were barred from attending a session of the Yugoslav Federal Parliament. Security guards at the parliament building claimed accreditation documents had not arrived in time for the journalists from Danas and Glas Javnosti, and gave no explanation at all to Danas. Editors at all three papers claimed to have applied for accreditation well ahead of the session.

June 16 The Novi Sad District Court upheld an appeal by plaintiff Rajko Popovic against a fine imposed in May on the Vojvodina daily Kikindske Novine. Under the new ruling, the fine of 1,080,000 dinars (US$90,000) already imposed on the paper under the Public Information Act was increased by 100,000 dinars (US$8,333). Popovic, who has previously won a number of convictions against Kikindske Novine, is the editor of the state media newspaper RTS Komuna. He also sits on the council of the Socialist Party of Serbia.

June 20 Radio 106, a Kosovo station owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church, was broken into and the bulk of its equipment stolen during the night of June 19-20. Transmission equipment and a mixing console were taken from the station, which broadcasts from the village of Caglavica near the Kosovo capital, Pristina. The station carried programming from the Voice of America, the BBC, and from the Serbian opposition radio station B2-92.

Local Serb officials accused supporters of the Belgrade regime of orchestrating the Radio 106 break-in. The Serb National Council in Kosovo (lead by Bishop Artemije, who is an opponent of President Milosevic) said Radio 106 had been under pressure from members of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia for some time. KFOR soldiers guard the village, and ethnic Albanians are virtually unable to enter without special KFOR permits. The break-in has been described as another attempt by Milosevic supporters to prevent objective information from reaching the remaining Serb population in the part of Kosovo that lies within the station’s reach.

June 20 The Higher Commercial Court of Belgrade ordered ABC Produkt, the company that publishes Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti, to vacate its premises on Vlajkoviceva Street within eight days. According to ABC director and Glas Javnosti editor Slavoljub Kacarevic, the court acted after dismissing an appeal against the eviction, which was originally ordered by a lower court. (However, as of June 27 when the deadline expired, the company had not been evicted).

Another ABC Produkt subsidiary, ABC Grafika, was forced into bankruptcy by the Commercial Court of Belgrade earlier this year, after being ordered to pay drastic fines under the Information Law for printing Promene, the bulletin of the opposition Alliance for Change. The latest decision effectively wipes out ABC Produkt’s ten-year investment in the formerly state-owned printing firm.

June 20 The Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti and its director and editor-in-chief, Slavoljub Kacarevic, were fined a total of 280,000 dinars (US$23,333) under the Public Information Law. The Belgrade District Court ruling resulted from a June 14 article in which a Kosovar Serb named Dr. Rada Trajkovic was quoted as saying, “the people know who betrayed Kosovo and ran away.”

Zoran Andjelkovic, a top official in Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialist Party and president of the Serbian government’s Interim Executive Council of Kosovo, sued the daily for this statement, although his name was not mentioned in the article.

June 20 In Pristina, unknown gunmen shot an editor from Kosovo’s only multi-ethnic radio station. Valentina Cukic, editor for Serbian-language programming at Pristina’s Radio Kontakt, was shot at approximately nine p.m. At the time of the attack, Cukic was wearing Kosovo Stabilization Force (KFOR) press credentials, which clearly identified her as a journalist. Cukic was hit in the chest, and her companion Ljubomir Topalovic, a bank employee, was shot in the leg. KFOR and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representatives who happened to be on the scene administered first aid. The victims were then rushed to a British military hospital.
Radio Kontakt had previously sought protection from UN police, KFOR, and the OSCE in response to escalating threats and violence against the station, which broadcasts in Serbian, Bosniak, Albanian, Turkish, and Romany and has controversially championed the idea that Kosovo should be a multi-ethnic community. Radio Kontakt was the target of a rocket-propelled grenade attack on April 17.

Cukic was released from hospital June 29, and said she would continue to practice journalism in spite of the dangers.

June 23 Dusan Djordjevic, editor of the state-owned Tanjug news agency, was fined 60,000 dinars (US$5,000) under the Information Law. Two leaders of the opposition Alliance for Change, Vladan Batic and Zoran Djindjic had filed charges against Tanjug for two June 9 articles accusing them of treason and betrayal of national interests.