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        Federal law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the Serbian and Federal Governments severely restricted this right in practice.  The Milosevic regime’s assault on these freedoms during the year was the most pronounced since Milosevic came to power over a decade ago.
        In October, after NATO threatened to intervene because of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Kosovo, the Serbian Government issued a decree effectively allowing press censorship, possibly as a response to the perceived threat to the regime of the free flow of information and ideas.  It later passed a new information law, which incorporated many of the decree’s strict provisions that left the country’s independent media severely constrained.  Under the law, private citizens or organizations can bring suit against media outlets for printing materials not sufficiently patriotic, or “against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of the country.”  Media outlets also can be fined for publishing items of a personal nature without the consent of the individual concerned (an apparent reference to political cartoons).  The rebroadcast of foreign news programs, including from the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America, was banned.  Media outlets whose practices do not conform to the new law may be subjected to exorbitant fines, which must be paid within a 24—hour period.  Two independent radio stations, Radio Indeks and Radio Senta, were shut down.  On October 28, criminal charges were filed against Nenad Cekic, the editor in chief of Radio Indeks.  In October independent radio stations Radio/Television Kursumlija, Radio Globus Kraljevo, and Radio Velika Kikinda stopped broadcasting altogether after government pressure to stop broadcasting foreign programs.  According to its management, the Government froze the bank accounts of Belgrade City Television Studio B in early December, although the station was associated with a coalition partner in the Government.  The Government annulled existing contracts with Studio B on frequencies and offered new contracts effective retroactively to June, which offered fewer frequencies at a significantly increased cost:  $100,000 per month.  Since Studio B refused to sign the contracts, according to the director, the station was already operating illegally, effectively providing the Government with grounds for closing the station.
        The Government shut down several other stations during the year, using confusing regulations governing frequency allocations, including Radio Kontact in Pristina in July, the independent city radio in Nis in August, and STV Negotin in September.  A problem that often renders independent electronic media outlets vulnerable is the deliberate vagueness of the relevant laws.  Radio and television stations, depending on their political dispositions, can be harassed bureaucratically.  Instead of obtaining long—term licenses to broadcast, stations receive only 1—year temporary licenses if they are approved at all.  The bureaucratic procedures are so difficult that stations frequently cannot possibly fulfill the requirements—leaving them at the mercy of the regime.  For example, under current law, to obtain a license to broadcast, a station must obtain approval of a government “construction inspector” on its office space.  But to obtain a construction inspector’s approval, a station needs a broadcast license.  In another example, in the spring authorities closed Feman, a newly opened television station in Jagodina and justified their action by the fact that the station was operating without a license.  The station editor in chief claimed that the Federal Telecommunications Ministry had informed him that he did not need a license prior to opening the station and led him to believe that there was a grace period during which to obtain proper documentation.  Two other private television stations in Jagodina operate without licenses.  The day after the station broadcast a program critical of the Government’s financial policies, an inspector from the Telecommunications Ministry, escorted by five police officers, closed the station.  According to the NGO Fund for Humanitarian Law, in the spring authorities closed down Radio Lazarevac, Radio/Television Studio M in Vranje, and Radio Herc in Zitoradje, much in the same manner as the Feman television station.
        In addition to license problems, those stations that do obtain licenses are forced to pay exorbitantly high fees, the nonpayment of which is enforced selectively by Serbian authorities to close down those stations that do not adhere to the Government’s line.
        Although there are many independent television and radio stations operating throughout the country, their broadcasts typically cannot be received beyond the major cities.  The only network that covers the entire country is the Serbian State Television and Radio Network RTS.  An estimated one—third of the population of Serbia only receives RTS, the official voice of President Milosevic.
        In October police beat an APTV cameraman in Pristina.
        According to independent journalists, most journalists started practicing self—censorship in an effort to avoid a violation under the media law.  Journalists had been informed that printing anything that was not true—even an advertisement or a death announcement—could be punished under the information law.  One independent newspaper reported that it was publishing half as many articles as usual, in view of the new need to check extensively the facts in every article.  The weekly Zrenjanin decided not to publish public statements after it was sued for publishing false statements made at a press conference, since such comments cannot be verified easily.
        The police harassed persons connected with the distribution of the widely circulated Belgrade independent daily Dnevni Telegraf.  Kiosk owners were approached and told that if they sold the newspaper the financial police would look into their operations.  Days after the repressive new Serbian information law was passed in late October, it was used to justify the imposition of an exorbitant fine on Slavko Curuvija, the newspaper’s publisher.  Police barged into the paper’s offices, confiscated property, and prompted the publisher to move his operations to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.  According to the newspaper’s management, it wanted to pay the fine and return operations to something like the conditions that prevailed before the crackdown, but the regime was more interested in keeping the newspaper off the streets.  As a result of the media crackdown and its changed circumstances, the daily circulation of Dnevni Telegraf dropped from 60,000 to 70,000 copies to 10,000 to 12,000 copies.
        Dnevni Telegraf’s experience had a chilling effect on other independent dailies, including Danas and Nasa Borba.  Both newspapers, less financially secure than Dnevni Telegraf, suspended operations to avoid fines that could destroy them.  By year’s end, Danas was publishing using a printing house in Montenegro.  In November Serbian authorities confiscated shipments of Montenegro’s only weekly independent newsmagazine, Monitor.  Although the magazine is completely Montenegrin—owned, Serbian authorities claimed that the law on information covered distribution channels as well.  In November the regime attempted to levy a large fine under the Serbian information law on the publisher of Monitor.  The Federal Government issued a decree in November that the independent magazine Ekonomska Politika would from that point on be part of the Borba publishing house.  Borba’s first act was to replace the director and managing director of Ekonomska Politika with individuals close to the Yugoslav Left Party (JUL), the neo—Communist Party headed by Mira Markovic, wife of FRY President Milosevic.  Publication of the magazine was stopped completely just as an issue highly critical of the Government’s economic planning policies was going to press in late December.  Nasa Borba and NT Plus, another independent daily, were still shut down at year’s end.
        After the media law went into effect the Serbian Government started prosecuting the owner and editor of the newsmagazine Evropljanin.  On December 17, Serbia’s Ministry of Information issued threatening letters to five Albanian—language newspapers and magazines in Kosovo to the effect that they were in violation of the new public information law.  Shortly thereafter, the newspaper Bujku was effectively closed down.  Editors from Koha Ditore, the leading Albanian—language daily, Zeri, an intellectual Albanian weekly, and Kosovo Sot, a new Albanian daily, reported that threats against the Albanian language media, which began with warning letters from the Serbian Ministry of Information, were escalating.
        Throughout the year Serbian police systematically intimidated printing houses—including in November the Forum of Novi Sad—to prevent them from printing independent newspapers.
        Before the Montenegrin parliamentary elections in 1998, state—controlled RTS openly campaigned on behalf of Momir Bulatovic’s Socialist Peoples Party (SNP), considered to be Milosevic’s surrogate political party in the republic of Montenegro.
        In March Belgrade public prosecutor Miodrag Tmusic called on police to investigate five major independent newspapers (Nasa Borba, Blic, Danas, Dnevni Telegraf, and Demokratija) along with some unidentified television stations to determine whether there were elements of “biased reporting” that incited terrorist acts or condoned terrorism
        On December 10, the new government—appointed Dean of Belgrade University’s School of Electrical Engineering Vlada Teodosic, ordered “filters” to prevent users of the academic Internet network from accessing the OpenNet web site, a major source of independent news and information.  The measure also affects the independent media and NGO’s in the country, many of which access OpenNet through the university.  According to Human Rights Watch, the filters appeared to have been prompted by a link on the web site to a political cartoon that showed Teodosic in a Nazi uniform and portrayed Milos Laban, another newly appointed administrator, as a monkey.
        Montenegrin newspaper publishers not friendly to the Belgrade regime frequently had their papers removed from trains and buses entering Serbia.
           The KLA kidnaped two Serbian journalists for the state—run news agency Tanjug on October 13.  The KLA finally released the two journalists in late November (see Section 1.d.) after a “trial.”
        In May the Serbian Parliament passed the new Universities Law.  It severely curtails academic freedom by allowing the Government to appoint rectors and governing boards and hire and fire deans of faculties.  Deans in turn under the new law can hire and fire professors—in effect taking away tenure and promoting regime loyalists inside the universities.  The law also discourages political activism among students, who were a mainstay of the antigovernment protests of 1996—97.  According to the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, some 22 professors were fired and 30 were suspended after the law went into effect for refusing to sign new contracts, as required by the law.  By year’s end, protests over the law were gathering force.  In November police arrested four students affiliated with the Student Resistance Movement Otpor, and a court sentenced them to 10—day prison terms in a summary trial with no right of appeal.  In one incident on December 29, unknown thugs (allegedly special police forces) beat a prominent student activist from the Otpor movement, Boris Karajcic, after considerable media exposure and his trip abroad to publicize human rights abuses in Serbia.  Serbian police detained and beat another Otpor activist, Srdjan Popovic, in Belgrade on December 15.


Last Updated: 11/20/99


1999 Post-Soviet Media Law & Policy Newsletter
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