OSCE urges new
election for broadcast monitoring body
VIENNA, Friday (Beta) – Serbia should hold new selection
procedures for members of the controversial Broadcast
Agency Council, a senior OSCE official said today.
The European security organisation’s representative
for media freedom, Freimut Duve, in his annual report
laid stress on the problems with the Council, which
is intended to monitor broadcast regulations as an
Duve emphasised the concerns of politicians, media
and lobby groups about the legitimacy of selection
procedures in the case of some councillors.
Certain procedural irregularities have been made
public. These irregularities are influencing the reputation
of the Council among the public,” said Duve, noting
that he had previously reported the issue to the OSCE
Permanent Council on July 17.
In his report he also noted that the Serbian Parliament
had confirmed the appointments on July 15, despite
the legitimacy of selection procedures being criticised
by many experts, including those in his own office.
Given the level of criticism, both locally and abroad,
Duve said that he believed the best solution would
be to repeat the selection procedure for the three
disputed members of the Council and another two who
had resigned in the meantime.
This, he said, would resolve the issue and give
the Council the necessary legitimacy for its operations.
CPJ concerned about government harrassment of the press
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about a series of government actions over the last several months that have further deteriorated Serbia's already poor press freedom conditions.
In particular, we are concerned about government officials' continued use of verbal threats, politicized lawsuits, and state censorship to harass journalists and silence news outlets because of reporting that criticizes government policies. What is even more disturbing is that in all of these instances you and other top Serbian leaders have failed to reprimand government officials for their behavior toward journalists, effectively sanctioning these press freedom abuses.
The most recent case involves the banning of the June 3 edition of the weekly tabloid Svedok because it contained an interview with Milorad Lukovic-Legija, the leader of the powerful Zemun mafia clan and the prime suspect in the March 12 assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. A district court in the capital, Belgrade, ordered the police to confiscate and destroy the edition because the interview was deemed anti-constitutional and propagated war, according to the independent daily Danas. As a result of this government intervention, about 28,000 copies, or 40 percent, of the weekly's print run, were not distributed, said Svedok editor-in-chief Vladan Dinic.
In a separate case of government harassment of the press, the Interior Ministry last month filed libel charges against Zeljko Cvijanovic, editor-in-chief of the independent Belgrade weekly Blic News magazine, a supplement to the daily Blic, and one of his reporters, Jovica Krtinic. The charges stem from a May 21 article by Krtinic that criticized a police investigation into the June 2002 murder of Serbia's deputy chief of police, Bosko Buha. If convicted, the two journalists cold face a substantial fine and up to three years in prison.
This is only the latest attempt to silence Blic News. In February, Communications Bureau chief Vladimir "Beba" Popovic filed a lawsuit against Cvijanovic because of a July 3, 2002 article that accused Popovic and a former senior military official of carrying out dirty propaganda wars on behalf of senior politicians. On May 30, a municipal court found Cvijanovic guilty and fined him 50,000 dinars (US$900).
Cvijanovic resigned from his post as Blic News editor-in chief on June 4 because of the growing pressure on him and his paper. "I concluded that in Serbia today, it is impossible to edit Blic News in line with the principles of open and free journalism," Cvijanovic said in a statement issued the day of his resignation.
In another case in April, Gordana Susa, the host and editor-in-chief of a popular talk show Press Pretres, has said that Communications head Popovic placed a threatening call to her on the evening of April 18 in retaliation for a question she had asked earlier in the evening on her show. In interviewing Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic on her program that evening, Susa had inquired about Popovic's status at the Communications Bureau since he was reported in the press to have been dismissed from the post in October 2002. Popovic has reportedly denied calling and threatening Susa. Attempts by CPJ to contact Popovic were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, CPJ remains extremely concerned about the government's delayed implementation of the Broadcasting Law and the establishment of a nine-member Broadcasting Agency Council to supervise the broadcast media and allocate national radio and television frequencies. Parliament approved the law in July 2002 but legislators missed an October deadline to choose Council members (four government appointees, four non-government appointees, and one appointed by the Council) and only started making appointments in April. Two of the government's candidates were chosen in violation of the nominating rules, and the member chosen by the Council was approved by Parliament despite allegations that he was not qualified for the job. Two of the non-governmental appointees have resigned in protest, and thus the Council currently favors the government.
Delaying the implementation of the Broadcasting Agency Council has serious repercussions for Serbia. Without a mechanism for the distribution of national frequencies to independent broadcasters, pro-government broadcasters dominate the airwaves, compromising media pluralism and access to public information in Serbia.
This legal and physical harassment of journalists, along with the delays in implementing the Broadcast Law, reflect the government's increasingly confrontational and intolerant attitude toward critical media coverage. As an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the protection of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ calls on Your Excellency to do everything within your power to stop these politically motivated lawsuits against members of the media, whose job is to report the news, even if it is displeasing to the government. We also urge you to prosecute those who threaten journalists in reprisal for their reporting, and to see that the Broadcast Law is implemented in a way that provides for a variety of views to be heard.
While we appreciate the tremendous amount of pressure you are under in stabilizing your country, we urge you to make a strong commitment to press freedom. An environment that tolerates a variety of opinion is crucial to preserving social stability.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper
Call for reelection
of broadcasting Council
Reporters Without Borders today called on the reelection
of the country's new broadcasting Council after the
Serb parliament voted on 15 July to uphold the choice
of three of the council's members whose nomination
was marred by irregularities.
The organisation also deplored the fact that, after
being confirmed by parliament, two of the three disputed
Council members, including its chairman, launched
virulent personal attacks against a leading journalist
who had said their election violated the broadcasting
law adopted last year.
"The creation of the broadcasting Council is
a major step for press freedom after the end of the
Milosevic regime and it is essential that its legitimacy
and independence cannot be questioned," Reporters
Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said
in a letter to parliamentary president Natasa Micic.
"The only way to restore such credibility to
the Council would be to rehold the election of its
members while complying with procedures in the strictest
fashion," Ménard urged. He added that personal
attacks on journalists were inappropriate and "incompatible
with the council's duty to be impartial."
The broadcasting council, which began functioning
on 4 June, was created by a law passed on 18 July
2002 that was the first dealing with the news media
since the start of democratisation. One of the Council's
chief duties is to ensure that broadcast frequencies
are assigned in a regular and impartial manner. News
media that were denied permission to operate under
the previous regime are still without a licence while
those associated with former Serb leader, Slobodan
Milosevic, still preserve their privileges.
The Council has nine members, four of whom are chosen
by the parliaments of Serbia and Vojvodina, two by
the universities and churches, and two by NGOs and
professional associations. The ninth member, who represents
Kosovo, is chosen by the other eight members.
The Council's first eight members were elected on
11 April, during the state of emergency decreed after
the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djinjic,
and the ninth was elected on 24 April. Three of the
nominations did not follow the rules and procedures
established in the broadcasting law.
For transparency's sake, the law establishes that
candidates' names and biographies must be published
at least 30 days before they are elected to the council.
But Nenad Cekic's nomination by the Serb parliament
was not announced until three days before the election
while that of Vladimir Cvetkovic, also by the Serb
parliament, was not announced until the day of the
election itself. Cekic is now the Council's chairman.
At the same time, Kosovo's representative, Goran
Radenovic, does not meet a key requirement for this
post, namely that he should live and work in Kosovo.
Snjezana Milivojevic, the representative of the professional
associations on the Council, and Vladimir Vodinelic,
the NGO representative, resigned from the Council
in protest at these irregularities.
Immediately after the Serb parliament supported the
three disputed Council members in a vote on 15 July,
two of them, Cekic and Cvetkovic, issued a press release
accusing Veran Matic, the president of the Association
of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) and editor
in chief of Radio B92, of waging a "witch-hunt"
against them. They also called for an investigation
into all of Radio B92's financial and legal operations
since 2000. Anonymous complaints had been lodged against
Radio B92's executives accusing them of irregularities
at the time of the station's privatisation. The charges
were declared to be unfounded by the privatisation
US Ambassador Extremely Disappointed at Status
Belgrade, June 5, 2003 In an interview to Belgrade’s
NIN weekly magazine, US ambassador to Belgrade William
Montgomery said: “We have made considerable efforts
here in the past decade to help develop a truly independent,
accountable journalism. I am extremely disappointed
not only because this did not happen at a pace which
I expected, but also because of the fact that there
are some people in the government itself who still
perceive the media as something that could be manipulated,
or something the government may use as a weapon.”
Massari: The Law was Broken
in the Broadcasting Council’s Constituting
Belgrade, June 9, 2003 (VIP Daily News Report) --
In the constituting of the Broadcasting Council certain
legal provisions on the manner of electing its members
were violated, and the OSCE has pointed this out to
the Serbian authorities, said the head of the OSCE
Mission in Serbia and Montenegro, Maurizio Massari.
In regard to the remarks by media associations concerning
the violation of the legal procedure in the election
of certain members of the Broadcasting Council, Massari
told Beta that the OSCE welcomed the formation of
that body after a several-month delay, since it was
necessary for the implementation of the Law on Broadcasting.
“The formation of the Council and its composition
were approved by the parliament and we respect that
decision. At the same time, we are aware of the fact
that certain provisions of the law have been violated
and we appealed to those responsible to try to respond
to this violation of the procedure”, said Massari.
Commenting on the objections of the media to certain
provisions of the Law on Public Informing, Massari
said that the OSCE “believed this law to be a step
in the right direction”.
“We believe it is better to have that law than not
to have it. That does not mean it is perfect”, Massari