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World Press Freedom Review
Serbia and Montenegro
2003 World Press Freedom Review*
By the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
The work of journalists in Serbia is still full of danger. On 11 April, there was the fourth anniversary of the murder of editor and journalist Slavko Ćuruvija. In another case, Vecernje Novosti reporter Milan Pantic was killed on 11 June 2001, after having written a series of articles on economic crime. In both cases the police failed to find the murderers. There is also the tragic case of deceased Duga journalist Radislava Dada Vujašinović.
Vujašinović was found dead in her apartment on 8 April 1994. At the end of April, the Serbian government, referring to police findings, mentioned for the first time the possibility that Dada Vujasinović had actually been murdered.
At the end of February, Borivoje Pajović, legal counsel for Blic daily, said that the media increasingly came under attack by those who sue for damages, invoking alleged violations of their honour and reputations. Pajović stated that seventy odd charges have been filed against Blic alone, with the total sum of 250 million dinars requested in damages. The largest number of charges has been brought against the dailies Danas and Blic, the weeklies Reporter and Nezavisna Svetlost from Kragujevac, as well as Belgrade Srpska Reč.
TV Čačak reporter and member of the municipal Social-democratic Party ("SDP") branch Mirjana Djoković was attacked on 11 January by the leader of New Serbia party Velja Ilić. After Djoković publicised the case, Ilić denied ever having spoken to the reporter.
On 5 February, the weekly Reporter informed SEEMO of the criminal suit against its journalist Jovica Krtinić. According to the Reporter, a policeman attacked the journalist in a court. There was no reaction from the police.
On 15 February two unidentified persons seized a cassette from a TV UrbaNS cameraman, who had filmed the house of Mihalj Kertes, a former close friend of Slobodan Milosević. The two unknown persons stopped the cameraman’s car and took the film he had been using.
On 19 February, the Third Municipal Court resumed the trial of Zeljko Cvijanović, the Blic news editor-in-chief who was sued for libel by Vladimir Beba Popović, the former head of the Serbian Government Communication Office. Popović sued Cvijanović for an article published on 3 July 2002, under the title, "Key to Pavković Affair Held by the Head of Serbian Secret Police." Popović said that the article did not contain "a single fact which is true" and had inflicted enormous damage on him.
On 3 March, the editorial staff of Novine Vranjske received a threatening letter signed by the Serbian Liberation Movement and the Serbian Liberation Front. The letter threatened the paper's editor-in-chief Vukasin Obradović and reporter Goran Antic for writing about the bishop of Vranje Pahomije in a negative context and for their "benevolence towards the Albanian lobby". On 18 May unknown perpetrators broke the glass and damaged the door to the offices of Novine Vranjske, the paper's staff told Beta agency. Vukašin Obradović said that judging by the incident "it is clear that it was not a robbery" and that it "goes beyond the limits of ordinary vandalism".
After the assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, on the evening of 13 March, the Serbian Government advised that under Item 9 of the Decree concerning the prohibition of public informing, distribution of the press and other notifications on the reasons for the proclamation of the state of emergency, all media were obliged to carry the information officially released by the state bodies.
During the state of emergency, the Ministry of Culture and Public Information decided to ban the printing, distribution or electronic publishing of the weekly Identitet of 18 March in order to prevent the publication of a number of articles on the reasons for the proclamation of the state of emergency. According to this same decision the company ID PRESS was fined 500,000 dinars and the paper's director Srdjan Mijailović was fined 100,000 dinars.
Also the editor-in-chief and his deputy were fined with 100,000 dinars each. At the beginning of June, three lawyers and the editor-in-chief of the banned paper Identitet Gradiša Katić were arrested during the state of emergency. On 2 April, Serbian Minister of Culture and Information Branislav Lecic said the local TV in Leskovac had been fined for airing a statement by the Democratic Party of Serbia ("DSS") that criticized the decision to proclaim the state of emergency and allegedly insulted government members. TV Leskovac was fined 300,000 dinars, and its editor-in-chief Mirjana Dimitrijević was fined 50,000 dinars.
On 4 April, the police, reportedly, arrested a Belgrade journalist Milovan Brkić and the Kragujevac correspondent for the Montenegrin daily Dan, Dragiša Petrović. Both were suspected of having connections to a criminal group linked to the murder of Prime Minister Djindjic. Some months latter, Brkić brought a case against the Republic of Serbia in which he was seeking compensation for slander.
On 3 June, the District Court in Belgrade, ruling on the motion of the District Prosecutor, issued a temporary ban on the distribution of the weekly Svedok, allegedly carrying an interview with the former commander of the Red Berets, Milorad Luković Legija. The Court ruling was, reportedly, based on Article 19 of the Public Information Act.
On 11 July the Supreme Court of Serbia accepted the appeal of the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of the weekly Svedok and reversed the verdict of the District Court in Belgrade of 6 June that prohibited the distribution of the paper and remanded the case for a new trial. On 24 July, District Court Chamber banned the distribution of information published in issue No. 358 of the Weekly Svedok.
On 18 July Vladimir Popović sued Novosti Company and the editor-in-chief of the daily claiming a violation of his honour and reputation, and demanded two million dinars in damages. According to Novosti, Popović's charges, referred to an article entitled "Beba and Veselinov Go", published on 8 May. Popović reportedly referred to the provisions of the Public Information Act.
At the end of June, the head of the Serbian Government Communications Office Vladimir Popović Beba sued the Belgrade weekly Vreme demanding two million dinars in damages. Vreme released news that Popović had filed charges against the publisher of the weekly and its journalist Milos Vasic for articles "Fallouts Continue" and "Price of Denunciation - 1.200 Euro", printed on 17 and 23 April 2003.
The new Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Živković confirmed the Serbian government's acceptance of Vladimir Popović's resignation on 15 July from the post in the Government Communications Office.
On 6 July, the car of Radisav Rodić, owner of the daily papers Glas Javnosti and Kurir was blown up in front of the restaurant "Avala." Rodić said he did not know who planted the explosive under his car. SEEMO sent a letter to officals in Serbia, asking for an investigation of the case.
On 8 July Belgrade weekly NIN announced its intention to sue the Serbian Government Communications Office secretary Vladimir Popović for threatening the paper's editor-in-chief Slobodan Reljic in court.
On 29 July, the Alternative Network of Electronic Media ("ANEM") protested the pressures on its member Sloboda, operator of TV Pirot. ANEM claimed that the candidate for Sloboda’s Managing Board was a member of the Milošević SPS party and a city of Pirot councilman, a person who worked as editor and director of the house under the Milosević regime, and who was responsible for unprofessional work.
On 28 July Vladimir Mitrić, correspondent for Vecernje Novosti, was brutally attacked in a Loznica restaurant. First he was verbally assaulted and then slapped and beaten by a local businessman. In the middle of September someone shattered the windows and punctured one of the tires on Mitrić’s car.
On 5 August, a member of Otpor Movement Pozarevac branch, journalist Mile Veljković, informed the public of the threatening phone calls he had received in July. He notified the Požarevac police accordingly and gave them the telephone number that the threats had come from. However, the police failed to react, and the calls started again.
On 4 Septmber, Momcilo Petrović, editor-in-chief of the daily Balkan said that the Duvan retail company had refused to distribute the newspaper.
The security personnel of the Smederevska Palanka municipal assembly prevented the crew of the Television Dević from attending the session of the local assembly on 5 September, and cameraman Zoran Prica was attacked during the struggle that ensued. Reporter Aleksandra Nestorov told the Beta news agency that a fight broke out in front of the Assembly chamber because the security staff would not allow her crew to enter the chamber.
In the Serbian province Vojvodina there are numerous of mulitethnic media. Vojvodina has always had the largest number of different languages used in the media. One of them is the Novi Sad based Multiradio which won the "Press Freedom Award" of the Hungarian Government in March. It was the first time that the award had been given to a media organisation outside of Hungary.
In the area of minority media nothing really changed in 2003. There are no legal regulations for broadcasting and, as a result, the radiobroadcasting system is still in chaos.
On 1 June Vladimir Ješić, author of an interview in TV Apolo from Novi Sad was physically attacked by the leader of New Serbia party Velimir Ilić during the filming of the programme. Ješić said he asked Ilić about the construction of the tobacco factory in Čačak and mentioned the name of his brother Strahinja Ilić. At that moment, Velimir Ilić stood up and gave him a kick in the knee and started to swear. Ilić denied this and said the reporter provoked him with questions. The director of TV Apolo Goran Karadžić called the media to boycott Ilić, while its Managing Board announced a lawsuit, due to the incident. SEEMO reacted with a protest after the attack from Ilić.
On 3 June, Novi Sad TV Apolo broadcast the interview it had made with the leader of New Serbia Velimir Ilic, including the moment when he aimed a kick at the knee of Ješić and started swearing at him. Television Apolo halted its broadcast in protest over death threats. The notice appearing on the channel's broadcast signal reads: "The programme was interrupted at 3 p.m. because of an attack on a TV Apolo journalist".
On 15 October the correspondent of Hrvatska rijec in the town of Sonta, Ivan Andrašić, was attacked by Jovan Vodeničar after the paper published a photograph of his son on the front page as this year’s "Prince" of a local festival. Vodeničar attacked Andrašić, swearing at him, saying "How dare you publish my son’s photograph on the front page of an Ustasha paper."
In mid-March the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro demanded that the Value Added Tax ("VAT") law should be amended by drastically reducing or abolishing the tax rates for print media set at 17 per cent. The VAT was to become effective as of 1 April 2003. The party submitted to the Parliament a proposal for amendments to the VAT Law suggesting a zero tax rate for the press instead of the anticipated 17 per cent.
Elsewhere, journalists in Montenegro can be sentenced to prison for defamation. On 22 October, Article 19 and the Montenegrian Helsinki Committee sent a letter to the Prime Minister to remind him of the government's commitment to decriminalise defamation and urge him to use his influence to further the discussions in the working group established by the Ministry of Justice to reform the Criminal Code. According to the suggestion made by the government and sent in November to the parliament, in future there should not a prison sentence for defamation and fines should be between 600 and 10.000 euro.
On 11 March, TV Budva Program board discharged the chief editor of the station Branka Plamenac and appointed Koca Pavlovic, as proposed by the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro. Pavlovic's resignation was requested by different media organisations.
At the end of March the Montenegrin parliamentary parties were divided over the abolition of live radio and TV transmissions of parliament's sessions. Head of the deputies club of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists Miodrag Vukovic said there is "no need" for direct broadcasts of all sessions. On the other hand, representatives of the opposition coalition "Together for Change" disagree.
On 3 April, leaders of the two associations of Montenegrin journalists expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that only the state TV had been given accreditation to report on the occasion of the admission of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro to the Council of Europe. Editor-in-chief of the Podgorica daily Vijesti, Slavoljub Ščekić said the "Strasbourg administration has bypassed the Montenegrin media."
At the beginning of April, Rajka Raičevic, of the daily Dan was given a three-month prison sentence suspended for two years in a libel suit. On 20 November 2001 Raičević wrote a report based on a panel discussion organized by the Democratic Party of Socialists youth, and addressed by Dr Vuk Minić. The article appeared in Dan under the title "Vuk Minic: Njegoš is Plagiarist." In his explanation of the sentence justice Miroslav Bašović said the court concluded that the accused failed to prove the truthfulness of her claims.
In April, Dusko Jovanovic, editor-in-chief of the daily Dan has been indicted by the Hague Tribunal for disclosing the identity of a protected witness (and thus threatening his life) on 30 August 2002. Jovanovic was charged with the "contempt of the Tribunal" pursuant to Rule 77 of the ICTY Rules of Procedure and Evidence. According to article 77 of the Rules, maximum punishment for a person found in contempt of the Tribunal is seven-years’ imprisonment, a 100,000 Euro fine, or both.
On 2 May, SEEMO wrote to Montenegrian Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, with concerns about the decision of the state Employment Center of Montenegro to stop advertising available jobs in the independent private daily Vijesti, with a circulation of 20,000 copies. Apparently, the Employment Center had decided to publish future advertisements in the daily Pobjeda and Publika, which together have a circulation of only 10,000 copies. There was no official notice from the Employment Center about ending the co-operation, and the editor-in-chief was only informed by phone, after he personally asked the director of the Employment Center.
On 27 May, opposition in the Montenegrin Parliament decided to stop co-operating with RTV Montenegro, after protesting the decision taken by the RTV Montenegro Council to terminate live transmissions of parliamentary sessions on 1 June 2003. Leaders of opposition parties said the decision of the RTV Montenegro Council was connected to the session to be convened at the Montenegrin parliament to discuss confidence in the Government and the proposed legislation on extra-profit taxes.
On 1 June, it was stated that Boris Tadić, Minister of defence of Serbia and Montenegro, was going to file criminal charges against the reporter and editor-in-chief of the daily Dan because of an article stating that the minister demanded the the removal of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro, Branko Krga. The release said the incriminating article "might not be regarded from a point of view of a professional error of the journalist concerned, but rather as an attempt to impair the credibility of the Defense Ministry."
On 6 June, police took in the editors of the Bar Info Center for questioning on account of their refusal to publish a number of releases of the Serbian Popular Party ("SNS"). The SNS Municipal Board filed misdemeanor charges against the editor-in-chief of the Bar Info Center Ljiljana Djindjinovic.
On 23 July, Montenegrin parliamentary parties met to discuss ways to resolve the row over the televising of parliament. The meeting was organized by the US NDA and the Working Group for the Implementation of Media Laws. The meeting was not attended by representatives of the opposition Popular Party and the Liberal Alliance.
A meeting in the previous week failed to reach an agreement. The meeting was attended by the members of the RTV Montenegro Council. Due to the RTV Montenegro Council’s decision to discontinue live coverage of parliamentary sessions the opposition decided to boycott the Parliament and request obligatory transmission of all parliamentary sessions.
Meanwhile, the RTV Montenegro Council decided to provide live coverage of the most important debates in the parliament.
Beginning in August, the Group for Change proposed that the Montenegrin Parliament establish a new public service to overcome the crisis. According to the proposal of the Group, Parliament should form a working group, comprising of representatives of all the media, to develop a law on the new public service, which should be adopted in an emergency procedure.
On 11 August, representatives of the state TV welcomed the proposal of the Parliament speaker Ranko Krivokapic to solve the crisis by concluding an agreement with RTV Montenegro for direct transmission of all sessions not included under the programme standards and professional principles of the station. At the beginning of September the Podgorica Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ("OSCE") proposed that parliamentary sessions should be broadcast on a private television network.
The private television costs would be covered by the OSCE, and it would broadcast sessions of the Montenegrin Parliament which the state television had no wish to, said the letter sent by the OSCE Podgorica office.
In September Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic announced plans to sue the editor in chief of Dan and the author of an article published under the headline "No justice for Moldovan woman while Djukanovic at the helm." The Association of Independent Montenegrin Journalists has criticised the decision by Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic to file libel charges against Podgorica daily Dan over an article in which he was linked to an investigation into sex trafficking.
Former Montenegrin Deputy State Prosecutor Zoran Piperović announced on 17 September that he would be suing the Belgrade Vecernje Novosti and its director and editor-in-chief for publishing the testimony of key witness in the affair of Moldavian citizen S.C. The Arena magazine, which is part of the Novosti Company, published the testimony of the key witness in the sex-trafficking affair. Piperović, who was one of the told the Beta news agency that he would seek a million Euros in compensation.
The director and editor-in-chief of the Podgorica daily Dan Dušan Jovanović was arrested on a warrant issued by the Kragujevac Municipal Court and was taken to the investigative jail in Petrovac. He was arrested because he had to testify in one of the cases before the Court in Kragujevac.
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanović on 19 December a complaint against Podgorica daily Dan editors Dusko Jovanović and Danilo Vuković, and the head of the "Belgrade Women’s Lobby," Nadežda Radović, alleging libel in articles on the republic's human trafficking scandal. Djukanovic is seeking prison sentences for the articles, which were published in November. The daily published two articles by Radović, headlined "While Djukanović at the helm no justice for Moldovan woman" and "Djukanović the consumer and the one hitting the brakes in the sex scandal." The complaint is the second filed by the Montenegrin premier against the journalists.
The regulations in Kosovo are made by the Institution of the Temporary Media Commissioner ("TMC"), which was established on 17 June 2000 by the Special Representative of the Secretary General, United Nations Mission in Kosovo. It is an independent body that receives administrative support from the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.
At the end of May, Radio Television Priština (RTP) ceased to exist, since the new Serbian Broadcasting Act anticipated the existence of only the broadcasting institutions of Serbia and Vojvodina. This decision acknowledged the fact that Radio Television Priština had not broadcast since 1999. Momčilo Trajković, a Kosovo-Serb leader, notes that about 130,000 Serbs are living in Kosovo and they have little access to Serbian language programme. As Trajković said, the Belgrade state RTS broadcasts cannot be received since the transmitters were torn down, while RTV Kosovo airs only about 15-minutes of daily programming in Serbian.
There were no major incidents during 2003, although the media complained on various occasions that their rights were violated. There were reports of various anonymous threats received by journalists and editors. The perception is that there were additional unreported threats. Some of these threats were reported to SEEMO. Most of them are threats from local businessmen or organised crime. Freedom of movement for Serbian journalists is also a problem because of various threats against Serbs in Kosovo.
At midnight on 28 May two persons in civilian clothes came to the Radio Kontakt offices in Pristina, introducing themselves as members of the Albanian National Army. They asked the staff member on duty questions about the station and demanded to inspect company documentation.
They then took the main computer from the production office.
On 11 July, Elmi Pasjaça, a cameraman from KTV, was detained by the UNMIK police for filming in front of a building where a trial was being held. The cameraman was taken to a police station and interrogated.
On 15 July journalists from Mitrovica issued a statement condemning threats against the head of a local radio station.
On 13 August the trial of Bojan Božović, Kosovo-reporter from the Belgrade news agency Tanjug, opened before the International Court Chamber in the municipal court in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica. Božović was accused of the criminal offence of endangering security under Article 48, point 2 of the Kosovo Criminal Code.
On 21 November 2002 he engaged in a verbal conflict with an UNMIK policeman. The international prosecutor Philip Alcock described the conflict as a criminal offence. The board of international judges presided over by Justice Carol Peralta, pronounced the sentence on 14 August. Božović was given a conditional prison sentence of three months, suspended for two years.
The Journalists' Association of Serbia (Udruženje novinara Srbije - UNS) in a letter addressed on 21 August to UNMIK head Harri Holkeri, pointed out that he should use his authority to solve the case of the missing persons Djuro Slavuj and Ranko Perenić. The letter was sent on the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Slavuj, a journalist from Radio Television Priština and his driver Perenić. The two left the town Orahovac for a nearby town in a blue car "Zastava" on 21 August 1999, but never arrived. The radio station and family members have not heard from them since.
The TMC monitored the August coverage of attacks on Serb children at Goraždevac (Gorazhdevac) with particular attention to the factual accuracy of news reports and commentary. As the TMC reported, Epoka e Re and Bota Sot have published misleading speculation that the young people were killed or injured by an explosive device, rather than by clearly targeted automatic rifle fire, as if to suggest that the victims themselves were at fault.
In its edition of 20 August, to make up for its previous mistakes, Epoka e Re reported from a news conference held by international organisations in Pristina on the subject. On the next day, the results were released of expert autopsies that confirm that the cause of death was automatic rifle fire. Bota Sot, reporting from the same news conference, chose to ignore the crucial autopsy information that conflicts with its baseless speculation about explosive devices. Moreover, Bota Sot has repeatedly implied, and in some cases asserted that there was no evidence whatsoever that Serbs were responsible for the attack.
Lindita Azizi, a RTK journalist, complained that she has been attacked on 5 September by a Kosovo Police Service Officer ("KPS") in Peje (Peć). She told the daily Epoka e Re that a police officer with badge number 2272, was screaming "put down your camera, you're not allowed to record us." She told the policeman that the cameraman was not recording but speaking on the phone. The policeman, as Azizi told Epoka e Re, used insulting words and was arrogant. Gazmend Elshani, her cameraman, was kept in detention at the police station for more than three hours.
Azizi was reporting about protests by a large number of prisoners in Dubrava prison when the protest turned into a riot, resulting in 5 dead and 17 injured. The attack on her happened while she was trying to get information at the Peć (Peja) Hospital concerning the health of those injured in the Dubrava Prison riot.
In addition, one of the Koha Ditore correspondents in Mitrovica claims to have been attacked and insulted by a KPS officer. This incident is also under review. On 18 September unidentified persons broke into the house of Adem Demaçi, president of the Board of RTK, while he was away from home.
On 21 September, a group of journalists from Serbian-language media were stopped and threatened while returning from a liturgy at a church in Obilić. Reporters for KIM Radio and Glas juga told Beta that a person in camouflaged uniform in a black VW Golf gave them the ""cut-throat" sign on the road out of Obilić, and slowed them down several times on the route to Pristina. Two days later the Kosovo police found the Albanian who was driving the black "Golf." Glas juga reported that they did not get his name, but received confirmation that it was not difficult to identify him, since in attempting to push the vehicle carrying the reporters off the road he caused an accident and was reported by the driver of the van he hit.
The Media Appeals Board ("MAB") of the TMC imposed a 4,800 Euro fine on the newspaper Bota Sot on 24 September for publishing a misleading photograph and related allegations regarding Baton Haxhiu, the head of the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo. The MAB noted that despite repeated requests over a period of nine months, the newspaper failed to publish a correction or apology for its misleading information. That was the second time in 2003 that Bota Sot has been fined for violations of the Temporary Code of Conduct for Media, totalling 10,300 Euro. No other media has been fined in 2003 for violations of the print or broadcasting codes. The TMC office received complaints in 2003 about various media. Most of these were against newspapers affiliated to political parties.
On 29 September Asllan Bekteshi, a journalist of the Zeri daily was threatened by an official of the municipal assembly in Prizren.
During 2003, journalists complained about the behaviour of some international bodies. The case in point was a decision by UN and OSCE spokespersons in the northern town of Mitrovica in November to suspend the question-and-answer part of their regular press conference on the grounds that some journalists were misquoting the officials. The Journalist Association of Mitrovica and the Association of Kosovo Professional Journalists expressed itself deeply concerned with the decision of UNMIK, OSCE, UNMIK police and KFOR to not answer journalists’ questions. "We call upon UNMIK, OSCE and KFOR to give up such collective measures. We call upon them to ask certain media or journalists for individual responsibility through the Ethic Code, Regulations or other laws apply in Kosovo for fabrications," read a statement from the Association.
*The Report includes Kosovo
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