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<nettime> Balkan Media and Policy Monitor 5: Media in Serbia

News and analysis digest

Special issue - Media in Serbia, Vol 5. November, 1998


At the time when the eyes of Serbia, as well as the World, were focused on
the negotiations between Richard Holbrooke and Slobodan Milosevic in the
search of the answer to the question whether NATO will intervene on the
territory of Yugoslavia or not, Milosevic used this to deal with
independent media in Serbia.
Under the guise that these media are calling the population to rebellion,
that they are spreading defeatism and that they are transmitting the
propaganda messages of the foreign states directed against the ruling
system in FRY, Serbian information minister, urgently closed down three
most respected Belgrade independent dailies, "Danas," "Nasa Borba," and
"Dnevni Telegraf," as well as two radio stations Belgrade "Radio Index" and
"Radio Senta" from Senta.
With this lightning strike, the editorial offices have been closed down,
and frequencies taken over. In an urgent procedure, a new Media law has
been passed, which sanctioned these moves. The new law, the most
restrictive in the history of Serbian journalism, is enabling anyone that
feels "hurt" by a journalistic article to alarm a civil court judge against
the author of the article, the editor, as well as the owner of the media
When the imminent danger of the NATO action waned, which was amplified as
much as possible through all state media, the regime allowed the operation
of all the sealed media outlets, but the new law remained in effect. All
the independent media organization in Yugoslavia fiercely protested, which
were only halfheartedly joined by the opposition parties. Much more firmer
protests came from abroad: the UN, EU, Council of Europe, as well as West
Europena governments. But, all this was greeted by malicious comments of
the Radical party of Vojislav Seselj, mentioning foreign spies and
mercenaries in the independent media.
"Balkan Media&Policy Monitor" brings in this special issue the articles
which analyze the new Serbian law on media, the political background which
lead to stifling of the independent media, as well as why Milosevic needed
all this at this moment in Serbia.
Besides this selection of articles more on the Media law, including the
English translation of the full legal texts can be accessed through the
following WWW sites:

The Editor


- "AIM" on the chronology of the closure of the media outlets;
-"Nezavisni" on the Decree that preceded the Media law; -"Vreme" on the
political background of the action against the media; -"Feral Tribune" on
the views of the current situation from the media angle; - "Vreme" - a
more detailed analysis of the new Media law and its political background;

Vesna Vujovic of the independent news pool "AIM" gives the chronology of
the closure of three independent Belgrade dailies, and indicates the
political motives of the ruling coalition which stands behind this move,
on October 24, 1998.

The first victim of the Serbian Law on media was the 13th issue of the
weekly Evropljanin owned by Slavko Curuvija who is also the owner of the
recently banned Dnevni Telegraf. Just two days after this regulation had
come into force (21 October), the owner, the editor-in-chief and the
manager of this journal were summoned to appear in front of the
magistrate, indicted for having published critical articles, illustrations
and photographs. After the trial which had lasted for eight hours, court
decision arrived the following morning sentencing the heads of Evropljanin
to pay the maximum fine according to the law of 2,400,000 dinars (400,000
German marks) within 24 hours, on the contrary their property will be
confiscated. The demand for instituting court proceedings was filed by the
Patriotic League of Belgrade which is a collective member of the Yugoslav
Left. In articles of this weekly, they found untruthful information which
call for forcible overthrowing of the constitutional system, threatening
territorial integrity and independence of Serbia and Yugoslavia, violation
of guaranteed freedoms and rights of the citizens, information which
provoke ethnic, racial and religious intolerance. Slavko Curuvija denied
the allegations of the indictment in his defence at court. He said that,
as the co-author of the article titled "The Letter to the President",
along with Aleksandar Tijanic, he had addressed a warning to Slobodan
Milosevic "that a coup d'etat has been staged in the country by extremist
groups of the three ruling parties." Stressing that these were value
statements, Curuvija tried to defend the incriminated parts of the article
in which it was said that "reputation of all Serbian institutions was
intentionally ruined": of the University which was brought down to a
cooperative farm, the Academy of Sciences which was brought down to an old
people's home, and the Church, the judiciary, media, the parliament and
the government have been deprived of any value. For the statements in the
article that about two million people are unemployed and that more than
one hundred thousand highly educated people had left the country, although
these were

notorious facts, the owner of the journal offered evidence obtained by
expert non-governmental and state institutions. Dragan Bujosevic,
editor-in-chief of Evropljanin, and Ivan Tadic, manager of the weekly,
whose job is only technical operation of the journal, also had to defend
themselves in court. These were the first court proceedings pursuant the
Law which were unanimously assessed by jurists as contrary to the law and
contrary to the constitution and against which all independent media and
their associations have prepared demands for nullification and submitted
them to the Constitutional Court of Serbia and Yugoslavia. Besides, these
are proceedings which annulled the fundamental right of man which says
that a man is not guilty until proved guilty in court. Only in proceedings
pursuant this Law, complainant does not have to prove the indictment, but
the defendant must present evidence of his/her innocence within 24 hours.
In the hearing conducted by judge Mirko Djordjevic, it was not taken into
account that the weekly had appeared in public on 19 October, that is, two
days before the law came into force, so the regulation was contrary to the
Constitution, applied retroactively. It was also accepted that the
proceedings were instituted by the demand of an organization such as the
mentioned Patriotic League, although pursuant the Law, the Ministry of
Information is the only one that is authorized for it, only after it
issued a warning. The judge rejected all requests of the defence, even
questioning of witnesses. In view of the fact that judges are appointed by
the government of Serbia, lawyers demanded exemption of the judge, since
being employees of the government, judges could not ensure independence of
the judiciary. Editors-in-chief of independent dailies and weeklies, and
electronic media, gathered at a meeting after the trial, assessed that
freedom of thought was on trial in Serbia again. The draconic fine levied
in the case of Evropljanin shows that the Law was passed in order to
completely eliminate free media. Apart from instituting proceedings for
assessment of the compliance with the Constitution, lawyers of all
independent media will lodge appeals for slander against Aleksandar Vucic,
minister of information, who publicly declared that editors-in-chief were
agents of foreign intelligence services. Although everybody is aware that
nobody can rely on laws and courts in Serbia any more, it was decided to
begin the struggle against the regulation on media in a legal manner. The
council of Nasa Borba decided that continuation of publishing of this
daily under the new Law on information was nonsense. Danas and Dnevni
Telegraf, however, decided that they would appear in public on Monday, at
the cost of the most drastic punishment - final shutting down. After this
trial almost all free-minded people clearly said that this was not a
question of individual newspapers and freedom of the press any more, but
an open hue and cry against free expression and a different opinion.
According to the Law on information, the source of information is not at
all responsible, but the only ones responsible for publication of an
information are the author, the editor-in-chief, the publisher and the
owner. This automatically means that all politicians in power are cleared
of every responsibility for their statements, except if uttered from the
assembly platform, as the law says. Practically censorship is introduced
for every opinion that differs, especially political ones, because it is
hardly possible to expect the owners and editors of media to be ready to
guarantee freedom of expression when their property is at stake. After the
illegal government decree which banned three newspapers, it was estimated
among the professionals that Milosevic wanted to narrow the space for the
story on Kosovo. This certainly is not unfounded, since it is an undoubted
fact that he will be called to account for the past ten years of his rule.
The first question is how it could have happened that a decade ago the
autonomy of Kosovo was

abolished to be given back to it by introduction of a protectorate on a
part of the territory of Serbia and Yugoslavia. But, after passing of the
Law on information, political analysts seem to be unanimous that the
problem has been opened for a long time to come. If this regulation is
observed in the context of others, primarily the restrictive Law on
Univerity, and the equally restrictive Law on Non-Governmental
Organizations, it becomes clear that the regime intends to eliminate all
possible pressure that might arrive from the strongholds of free thought.
With narrowing down of the space for informing the public, not only about
the agreement on Kosovo, but also about the key economic and social issues
which, in view of the bankruptcy of the state, will soon be opened in a
dramatic manner, it is obvious that single-mindedness is being prepared
for Serbia dictated from a single centre: state television and daily
Politika. The space for critical information and articulation of any
possible political alternative will be narrowed down to a maximum, if not
completely abolished. Formal abolishment of political parties is not at
all necessary, they are already forced to withdraw underground and resort
to guerilla struggle.

Source: Independent news pool "AIM," October 24, 1998;

Novi Sad weekly "Nezavisni" was the first to publish a more detailed
analysis of the most recent media crisis in Serbia written by Tamara
Kaliterna in its October 16, 1998 issue.

Serbian citizens receive electro shocks every six months. In March of this
year, when the conflict in Kosvo turned into a war, Belgrade district
attorney Miodrag Tmusic "took adequate measures" against the editors of
"Nasa Borba, " "Dnevni Telegraf," "Blic," Demokratija," and "Danas," and
"some" TV stations because of the "articles that encourage the terrorists
and falsely present the measures against the terrorists in Kosovo and
Metohija." The unspecified measures were indicating towards the "elements
of criminal acts of spreading false information as specified by article
218, paragraph 1 of the Serbian penal code." The matter was simple - the
accused have called the "terrorists" as "Albanians," and at that time the
threats ended in "informative conversations." Exactly six months later,
after the decrees on real estate trade and reregistration of automobiles
with Montenegrin licence plates, came the "Decree on special measures in
the conditions of NATO threats to our country ." "The conditions of
threat" are neither the constitutional "imminent threat of war" nor
"threat of war," nor "state of emergency." "Our country" is probably
Serbia, perhaps "Yugoslavia," or possibly the domain of the public
prosecutor. The Decree stands above the constitution of Yugoslavia and
Serbia which guarantee the "freedom of the press and other public means of
information, " as well as the Law on public information, which does not
recognize censorship. The Law on information envisages something that is
even unthinkable for the Decree - the right to a correction and denial.
That things are being reduced to instigation of fear and new dipping into
pockets is proven by the announcement that taxes will have to be paid by
the owners of satellite dishes and Internet users. If the government
continues in with this pace, the only people spared will be the owners of
coal powered irons. The fact that the regime will not leave the Internet
users alone, favoring propaganda, is proven by a recent example. BBC
offered the Interent users to participate in a poll titled "Should the
West attack Yugoslavia because of Kosovo." Eunet, one of the Yugoslav
providers, owned by the Karic

brothers dynasty, hurried to inform its subscribers about the poll with
their translation of the poll titled "Your vote against the bombing." Is
Eunet threatening or spreading false news ? Immediately, the regime
quietly and " in a dignified manner" closed Radio Senta and Belgrade Radio
Indeks - which is founded by Belgrade university. Daily "Danas" received a
letter marked confidential 9/98 from the Serbina Ministry of information
that it is "spreading panic, fear and defeatism," by publishing
translations of articles which could be bought at our newsstands, and
that, if it continues, "it will be prevented from being published, and its
work means confiscated." The similar letter with the same date and the
number 8/98 was received by another independent daily, "Nasa Borba." Media
outlets responded to the Decree in a different manner. "Zig" from Subotica
appeared with eight blank pages, Radio Pancevo transmitted the news in
Chinese, Chechen and North Korean dialects. "Dnevni Telegraf" published
every single detail what it is not publishing, the TV station SAN from
Novi Pazar sued the state, the telecommunications minister and the
inspector on duty for theft of transmission technology.

Novi Sad weekly "Nezavisni'" October 16, 1998; The chief commentator of
the Belgrade weekly "Vreme," Stojan Cerovic, looks at the new attack on
the independent media in Serbia in the October 17, issue of this weekly.

There are two possible answers to the question why this new attack. One is
that the Milosevic regime has really begun a decisive move to eliminate
the last democratic facade, particularly due to the concessions that it
has been forced to make in Kosovo. Such a reaction would not be
unexpected, because this regime has been fostering years long animosity to
everything Western, whereas it considers the democratic facade,
independent media and the opposition as internal enemies which it is
supposed to bear. So, if Milosevic has accepted a reasonable agreement
concerning Kosovo, and if he is sending congratulatory notes to himself,
this does not mean he does not feel defeated. The second possible
explanation is somewhat more favorable and would indicate that the
strengthened censorship belongs primarily to the Radicals, who might feel
that the agreement in Kosovo threatens their position in power. Seselj
took a big leap in this bombing affair, he obviously dominated the Serbian
government, he pushed towards the confrontation with NATO and "the spies
and traitors" with full force, and as if he was getting ready for the
final thrust to the top of the power. The agreement which is unpleasant
for Milosevic has to be "absolutely unacceptable" for him, even though he
will tactically retreat from such an assessment. So, the attack on the
media could be the continuation of the Radicals' attempt to take over the
political scene, offering Milosevic the liquidation of joint enemies. But,
this is a poisoned gift. Seselj would prove to be somebody who has better
muscles, sending fearlessly the police to Belgrade editorial offices,
while Milosevic's knees are trembling in front of NATO. Seselj's remaining
in power is the best test for the readiness for serious dealing with
Kosovo. If Milosevic would not be capable to get rid of him and make a
deeper democratic turn in Serbia itself, nobody should hope for any kind
of stabilization in Kosovo. The agreement with Holbrooke, no matter how he
interprets it, understands an attempt to build some kind of Serb -
Albanian coexistence. The outlook for that is practically nil,
particularly after the explosion of violence in the last six months, so it
is perfectly senseless to invest efforts towards that goal while a
neofascist is sitting in the Serbian government.

Source: Belgrade weekly "Vreme," October 17, 1998;

The editor-in-chief of the Belgrade weekly" Vreme," Teofil Pancic, writes
about the media situation in Serbia in the October 19, 1998 issue of the
Split weekly "Feral Tribune."

The impossible, almost surreal nature of the situation and mindlessness of
the actions of the regime is best seen by the written explanations of the
Serbian Ministry of Truth. The responsible minister, Aleksandar Vucic was
not ashamed to sign this anthological creations of practical idiotism. In
the letters to "Danas and "Nasa Borba, sentences of certain articles are
analyzed in detail - most of which are author's columns, presenting
personal views - while it is stated that these articles "Create panic,
fear and defeatism." Preventing the publishing of low circulation papers
for intellectuals because their business columnist is "spreading fear,
panic and defeatism" among the wide (and widely illiterate) masses is a
step that deeply insults with its high concentration and perfect quality
of applied cretinism. The political-journalist circles, which replaced the
sealed editorial offices with cafes and restaurants, is attempting to
discern what is really at hand: is this the individual rage of Seselj's
Radicals, since all the restrictive Decrees have been signed by the
government Vice president, Vojislav Seselj, and not the Prime minister,
Mirko Marjanovic - and if it is, does this mean that Milosevic has given
Seselj a free hand for a joyride with Serbia so that he would, in return,
swallow all his major concessions concerning Kosovo, or is it, as the
incorrigible optimists say, is Milosevic's trap for Seselj to compromise
completely his position so that Milosevic could throw him out of the
government as a disgusting totalitarian extremist ? I fear that another
possibility should be added to all of these: a season of great, essential
foreign policy concessions of the isolationistic regime in Belgrade is at
the doorstep. Since the public has been harangued and fed with
nationalistic and rasist propaganda for ten years, it will be hard do
explain to it why we are giving up on various "sacred national goals."
That is why the free media has to be prevented, so that important state
business is taken care of in a situation where as small as possible number
of people would notice it. This could also show the pragmatic cynicism of
the "big world," which will not pay too much attention to the mischief of
the Belgrade regime within Serbia, if it, in return, gives it a new round
of "peace and stability in the Balkans." We've seen this movie already
after Dayton. Whenever Milosevic signs some kind of peace with somebody,
the journalists here start sleeping with one eye open. What makes the
repression much more dangerous this time and far-reaching - and what
threatens to turn Serbia into a semi-wild Bantustan - is the Radicals'
developed sense for disgusting. These bizzare radical mutants, these
horrific children of the New Serbia created by Milosevic and his wife for
ten years now, have grown up and are very, very, hungry. That is why they
will firstly swallow all those who do not like Mom and Dad, and when there
is nobody left, they will swallow Mom and Dad too.

Source: Split weekly "Feral Tribune," October 19, 1998;

Milos Vasic, one of the editors of the Belgrade weekly "Vreme" and the
president of the Association of the Independent Journalists (NUNS), makes
an analysis of the newest Law on Public Information in Serbia and the
hurry of the regime to pass it, in the October 24 issue of "Vreme."

So, the Law has been passed as an urgent measure. In the letter to the
Parliament, Dr. Milovan Bojic (of the JUL party), the Vice president of
the Government, states that the "written exposition of the Law presents
the necessity" of the urgency. But, this exposition is explained by the
"need the legally regulate the sphere of public information and to remove
the need to regulate certain matters with decrees." Translated to daily
language, this means: we have passed that ill-fated Decree and have seen
that the scandal is unbearable and dangerous, so we have decided to
secretly and quickly turn the Decree into a Law. Having in mind the
political context, the urgency is understandable: the direction of the
development of the Kosovo crisis is dangerous; the black-red coalition is
on its way to lose its fourth war; Serbia is poor and confused, frustrated
and could get angry. Sooner or later it will find out the provisions of
the future peace agreement on Kosovo (among other things, the annex on the
police force; it seems that it is important now to shut the mouths of all
those who will start to pose unnecessary questions like "what was that
most expensive Serbian word?" The key danger for the freedom of the press
lies in three aspects of the new Law, say the lawyers and constitutional
experts: in revoking of the basic human right through a lower legal act by
confusing definitions, lightning procedure left to the misdemeanor judges
and in astronomical fines. In the Law itself, the "innovations" can be
seen immediately say the legal experts: legal terms have been replaced by
political ones, while the Ministry of information is not being obliged to
issue explanations and guidelines which could help in practice. The term
"political propaganda" contained in Article 27 which bans transmission and
publication of contents of foreign origin is a political term, the
interpretation of which is left to the Ministry. Besides this, presumption
of guilt for media is being introduced, where the author of the article,
the editor, the editor-in -chief and the publisher have to prove the
truthfulness of the published material, and all this within 24 hours. With
all this, the complaint to the judge is being brought by the Ministry of
information. So, within 72 hours, the judge is to understand what is at
hand, who is right, and who is not - and why. So we have come to a
situation that the journalists and editors in Serbia have less rights in a
misdemeanor procedure that participants in a cafe brawl. This introduction
of misdemeanor procedure in the realm of information is a legal and
political scandal: if this realm is so important, why isn't the penal code
applied ? Simply because in the criminal procedure, the accused has more

Source: Belgrade weekly "Vreme," October 24, 1998;

"Balkan Media and Policy Monitor" is a by-weekly publication financed and
sponsored by the Netherlands Ministry of Culture, The Hague hCa -Prague,
and IKV- The Hague.

Editor: Ruzica Zivkovic

Contact: Celebesstraat 60, The Hague
phone no: 31 70 350 7100
e-mail: ikv@antenna.NL (for the "Monitor")
Web sites:
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