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Transcript of a part of the press conference on resignation by Broadcast Council member, Snjezana Milivojevic

 

BELGRADE, June 05, 2003

Snjezana Milivojevic, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Science of Belgrade University, and member of the Broadcast Agency Council who resigned her membership:

Hello to everyone. Of all these identities listed for me, I am addressing you today as a member of the Broadcast Council with the shortest term in the history of European broadcasting bodies. My term lasted only one meeting and, because I was appointed to the Council on the proposal of professional associations, I was happy to accept this invitation and consider it my duty to address you today.

Our initial efforts to put the sector into regulated order have been considerably changed by a number of events following the adoption of the Broadcast Act in its final phase, particularly over the past year of constant attempts by the authorities to stall its implementation, or at least delay it. However the latest events concerning the election of the Broadcast Council have been so dramatic that it seemed to that remaining part of this body was impossible.

Yesterdayís Council session was, in fact, the constitutive session, at which we needed to elect a chairman and deputy chairman and, to my great regret, the session was closed to the public. During the first half-hour of discussion I attempted to make the point Ė supported by Professor Vodinelic Ė that by law the Councilís work is open to the public. The other members of the Council, however, had a different interpretation, that the needs of the public are satisfied if they issue a twenty-line press release after a four-hour meeting. I donít think that the public and the media necessarily find the work of the Council interesting at all times and do not need to attend the session in person, but I think it is inadmissible that the Council completely shuts them out. I therefore gave my full support for the session to be open, the arguments I heard there did not require the public to be excluded from the work, particularly as OSCE representatives attended the meeting. I am unable to understand why international organisations may attend the meeting while representatives of our local media, that is to say our public, may not. The experience of European regulatory bodies is that their sessions are sometimes closed, but only in cases where business secrets of particular broadcasters applying for frequency licenses are to be revealed and to prevent that information becoming public in the event that they are not granted a frequency. I believe that everything else the Council does should be open to the public. The argument that the biographies of certain people would be discussed did not hold water because we had taken our places there in the first place because of our published biographies. Some of those biographies were controversial, which was discussed by the Council and which was the reason I thought the session should be made public but, as I say, we were outvoted. Only two of us supported this request.

So the session began and, in fact, the whole discussion focused on whether, under these circumstances, we could accept the responsibility of constituting the Council. I canít tell you all the details now Ė it was a very long discussion Ė there were various arguments. If there are questions I can answer to them, but it all came down to formulating three proposals. I defined the first proposal, which was that the Council should refuse Ė because until we were constituted we were still not the Council Ė to be constituted in the circumstances, with three candidacies, or to be more precise the appointment of three members of the Council, the subject of dispute or public criticism. Particularly since in the case of two councillors there are obvious illegalities Ė violations of the procedure.

The fact that the parliament chose not to respect the procedure, that in the process of nominating councillors who were nominated by the parliament and the government it chose not to follow procedure, was not seen by some people on the Council as any great violation: they believed there were no serious obstacles to the candidacy of these people. On the country, I thought that such high-handed behaviour by the parliament, the fact that they did not respect legal procedures which do not even require additional interpretation Ė because anyone who reads the law can see that the procedure was not respected Ė is actually the exercise of a special kind of arrogance, because this illegality is so blatant at the beginning of the Councilís work that the Council can not begin to operate. I proposed that the Council refuse to be constituted, return the disputed appointments to the parliament, wait for the outcome and, only then, constitute itself. There is no need for the other, properly elected, councillors to be part of a body whose legitimacy is challenged, particularly given that this body faces serious tasks and will make many decisions which will be disputed later. The only way for the body to defend itself from possible criticism is to be fully supportive of legal procedures. I do not understand how the other councillors can not see that the only way, the only circumstance under which the parliament will agree to review its decision is the fact that, otherwise, the Council will not be able to function. Because if the Council is not constituted, it does not exist.

The second proposal was defined by Professor Vodinelic Ė that the Council should express its regret that the parliament chose not to respect the legal procedure, that the Council should do its best not to allow the illegality to influence its operations and that the parliament should be asked to review its decision.

The third proposal was defined by Bishop Porfirije, with elements of the first two proposals Ė that the Council should express regret that the parliament chose to act outside the law and hope that it would not influence the Councilís work Ė but did not seek that the parliament review its decision.

At this point I will remind you that the parliament is obliged to return any nomination not respecting the legal procedure for nomination to the nominator within fifteen days. The parliament should therefore return its own nomination to itself and the government and, if it does not do so on its own, I thought that the Council was the right address for this reminder to come from.

Five members of the Council voted for Bishop Porfirijeís proposal, three members for that of Professor Vodinelic and I was the only one to vote for my own proposal. I then, of course, took the consequences of making such a proposal. Under these circumstances, with such an obvious majority unconcerned by the initial illegal behaviour of the parliament, the Council cannot operate, or at least I cannot sit on that Council, and I informed the Council that I would submit my written resignation to the Parliament in the legally-required way.

As soon as the discussion was over, and it lasted a very long time because we returned on several occasions to many points of the arguments presented, the Council elected a president. On the proposal of Vladimir Cvetkovic, Mr Cekic was elected. It was a three-round vote. On the third round he got a two-thirds majority and so the constituting of the Council was done. I am telling you all these details because it would have all been available to the public had the session been open and we could have talked about something else today.

I was very concerned yesterday by the fact that the majority of the councillors thought that the work of the Council would be public if press releases were issued after meetings and annual reports published. They even told me that this was sufficient when it came to public insight into the bodyís work. I believe that the only way for the Council to show it is an independent body is to react to every kind of illegality which followed its appointment, particularly that coming from the parliament.

The role, credibility and mission of this council will be defined by its autonomy from the authorities. If there is suspicion about this autonomy form the outset, if the public believes from the beginning that the people there are not meeting the expert criteria for making important decisions which will certainly be disputed in the future, I believe that the Council will not be able to operate. This is why I thought it would be better if those members who were supported by their nominators, the public and the parliament, refused to constitute the body under those circumstances. That is the explanation here and now for what I have done. I will be happy to answer questions. Thank you.

Rade Veljanovski, deputy general manager of Radio Television Serbia for Radio Belgrade and chair of the task for drafting media legislation:

From the moment the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists was founded nine years ago, and I was chairman of the associationís founding assembly, I was assigned by the association to deal with legislation in the media sector so that, one day, when the time came, when the horrifying regime of Slobodan Milosevic was toppled, democratic transformation of the media system through democratic regulations could be secured. I have been doing that job for ten years, many other people have worked on it too, and we sincerely believed that one day, when democratic forces came to power, it would happen.

After a certain initial success, I have to inform you with great regret that with the election of Nenad Cekic as president of the Broadcast Council yesterday our cup now runs over with a whole series of poor moves which, unfortunately, have endangered and virtually disabled democratic transformation of the media system.

Given that these poor moves include state institutions, the highest state bodies, both the government and the Serbian parliament, it is not possible to keep quiet about what has been obvious for quite some time now Ė that there is deliberate negative pressure coming from part of the authorities.

When we were adopting the Broadcast Act, although it took a rather shorter time than in other countries in transition, it could have been done even more quickly had the authorities been interested in it. I was chairman of the task force and I assure you that I mean this. As you know, there were some last-minute changes in the law. I could understand everything: compromise is sometimes necessary, in our circumstances it is not so easy to adopt the best legislation and there should be understanding and support. Even when the number of councillors was reduced from fifteen to nine and the structure changed, I was assured that certain regulations in the law which define the eligibility for councillors would be sufficient guarantee that an independent body would be elected, on able to work on the same principles as the European regulatory agencies. I in my turn assured others of this.

It now emerges that I was naive, that having four authorised nominators from the state institutions themselves and the ninth who is supposed to be elected from Kosovo is an odd way for someone who does not want to see legally imposed domination. I think this is exactly what happened. So we now have three disputed members of the Council and, yesterday, one disputed member nominated the other as chairman of the Council and he was elected. I am under no illusion that such a council can contribute to the democratic transformation of broadcasting in Serbia and of Radio Television Serbia from a state radio and television into a public broadcasting service, and all the rest of the private and other media which are supposed to enter the market on equal conditions.

When the Public Information Act was being adopted, nine articles were included at the last minute which had the effect of removing the democratic nature of this legislation. In the atmosphere of a state of emergency, articles which may have suited the needs of martial law were included in this legislation intended for normal times, as though someone were keen in this way to extend the state of emergency. And it still works, as we can see.

The obvious example is that of Svedok. As someone with 27 years as a journalist, I am not partial to this kind of publication, but the explanation used to ban Svedok Ė that it contravened Articles 17 and 18 of the Public Information Act Ė is unacceptable. These articles only stipulate that the distribution of information may be banned under Article 16, but when you read Article 16 of the act and read the whole Svedok story (which, by the way, I didnít find very interesting, you can see that there is no justification for the banning there. But it gets worse.

If you have such an article in legislation you are making way for arbitrary interpretation, you allow the possibility of espionage work in media, because how can you prevent the ban on information distribution? Let us understand each other here, because such interpretations have already emerged, that the people who are against these articles support the spread of ethnic hatred, war mongering, religious conflicts and so on. I claim that this is total nonsense, because the law already contains decrees on banning hate speech which define all this in detail and there is no way that we who are not in favour of the ban on information distribution support what Article 16 is actually about.

But tell me, please, if you ban a paper today because it contains suspect information then, in the first place, you have seen it: itís in our nature, this kind of information spreads the furthest, thatís a fact and practice has shown it numerous times. Secondly, if several days later a court hearing acquits the paper, how are we going to sell todayís papers again in five days time? What will happen to this particular newspaper, who will compensate it for the damage, and how? And what are the ramifications of banning information when, as we can see, the banning ensures it reaches a larger number of readers, listeners or viewers than if we donít. So exactly the opposite happens. Letís think about how you can ban such information on broadcast media. Youíre in front of a microphone and who knows what you are going to say. This is not the way to fight bad practice in journalism, but there are bad practices and we must fight as media professionals, but itís all about ethics, itís being dealt with in the media associations, at large staff meetings, in schools where journalism is taught. Thatís the way to prevent bad and unprofessional journalism.

I know that in our society today there are major dilemmas about the extent to which we can criticise the new authorities in any way because, oh my God, they toppled the Milosevic regime from the throne. In the first place I think it is obvious that we all took part in that Ė the people now in power, the independent media, NGOs and the whole civil sector. In the second place the tacit social consensus that the new authorities must in no way be criticised because they are reformist, democratic, pro-European and so on is simply not acceptable. This is partly because of the authorities themselves but mostly because of the overall social situation and I sincerely hope there will be people in the authorities who will react to whatever is preventing the democratic transformation of the media system.

I trust there are such people among the current authorities, but their voices must be much louder. If our parliament does not have twenty members today who can launch an initiative for replacement of the Broadcast Agency Council members and if it does not have the will to throw out nine articles from the Public Information Act, Articles 15 to 24, then we can really expect nothing.

If there are any questions Iíll answer them now.

Milica Lucic-Cavic, Chairperson of Independent Journalistsí Association of Serbia (NUNS):

Iíd like to be optimistic and give a message to the members of the Serbian Parliament that they should not play around with the Broadcast Council because, if they do, and the indications are all that they want to play around with it, media will not operate on a level playing field. We know what that is like from the period of 1990 to October 5, 2000 Ė media donít have the same opportunities. Journalists from critical media will end up fined, or losing their jobs, or in prison, while others paint Serbia in rose tones, donít write a word of criticism of the authorities or their errors and instead only praise those in power. We have seen the fate of a major media company which specialised in that kind of ďjournalismĒ Ė Radio Television Serbia which, I hope, will soon manage to be transformed into a public service broadcaster.

We in the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists are angry that Snjezana Milivojevic whom we nominated as the candidate of the professional associations, now wonít be sitting on the Council. She is one of our greatest media experts and analysts and has received nothing but praise, both at home and abroad, for her ideas, opinions and knowledge. Now, instead, there will be people sitting on the Council who do not have anything near her qualifications for the job. They may not be malicious, but there is a suspicion that they will be malicious. That suspicion has not been denied in any way. One thing is certain, this job is difficult and complex. It calls for so much expert and technical skill. I donít men that the councillors must be experts in the technical sense but they have to know who to choose to do the job. Iím afraid that if the Council survives in this form there will be an unequal situation in the media: some will be given national and regional frequency licences while some wonít, there will be no clear criteria and the whole job will be done badly.

I say we should appeal to the members of parliament, the twenty members of parliament required to launch an initiative. This is a very important issue and I am certain that many international organisations which deal in media and human rights and have offices in Belgrade will respond to the Broadcast Council situation.

Veran Matic, Chairman of the Managing Board of ANEM:

After these lengthy introductions, it is difficult to add anything new. We derive no satisfaction from the fact that ANEM has repeatedly warned where all this would lead, because the situation will certainly deteriorate further and cause much more damage than we can predict or expect. The certification of US aid to Serbia-Montenegro is expected soon; the Council of Europe monitoring mission will be in Belgrade next week to assess the development of democratic and reformist processes in this country. So Iím not sure whether these particular moves are attempts to undermine these processes and exert a negative influence on the decisions which are to made, for example, only this month.

Not just the parliament, but the Broadcast Agency councillors themselves can initiate the correction of mistakes, the repeat of procedures, and a credible new make-up of the Council would be able to function autonomously within a reasonable deadline. This would be in the interest of all media in the region. And this is not only about broadcast media. Rade Veljanovski has properly broadened this discussion to the position of media and journalists in general in this country.

We have prepared a report which so far has been signed by the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, ANEM, the media team for cooperation with the Stability Pact, Beta news agency, Glas javnosti, VIN, Ekonomist magazine and Radio Belgrade. We are waiting on more signatures, which is why we are unable to hand this report to you today. It will be available to everyone and will be distributed by the end of the week. It deals with topics discussed here today and makes the very important recommendations which have often been repeated: the Access to Information Bill should be adopted urgently, because it was designed to be adopted together with the Public Information Act. Let me remind you that this is legislation which puts an obligation on public servants and politicians to reveal information of interest to the public. The next recommendation is that the Serbian government should review the feasibility of certain regulations in the Public Information Act together with representatives of the drafting team. Mr Veljanovski has already discussed this. Next, the Serbian Parliament should revoke its decision on the appointment of Broadcast Council members. This has also been discussed here today. The Serbian Telecommunications Agency should be established urgently because this body is to regulate conditions for frequency use and will prepare a draft plan for the use of frequency range which is compatible with the Broadcast Agency Council. In civil legislation, the crimes of libel and tort should urgently be decriminalised and ceilings for damages set which are in accordance with the economic situation in the country. You all know about Article 92 in the Criminal Code and that, despite major protests from the local and international public, it is still a serious threat to freedom of expression. Then there is a stepping up of the process of reviewing the role of the media under the former regime and establishing the possibility of lustration in this field. Also needed are stronger regional media cooperation for the exchange of information, a specialised program for the struggle against organised crime, the disclosure of war crimes, the urgent resolution of the status of the building in Resavska St which was bequeathed before World War Two for the use of all journalists and which should be shared equally by the Association of Serbian Journalists and the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, the speeding up of ownership transformation of large state media including the regional and local companies established by provinces and municipalities.

We are now on the opposite road from the direction we have tried to take with all our projects and activities in the past two and a half years, and even earlier, because the drafting of the democratic legislation began within the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists much earlier. I think that this negative trend which still exists, the negative tension between politicians and media, will only contribute to the destruction of relations, the destruction of everything of value. One attempt of ours a couple of weeks ago, an invitation to a meeting with fourteen editors, had only one positive result: the taxes on print media were abolished. All our other requests, recommendations and pleas were ignored, and not only ignored: we ended in a position where decisions were made which, as Rade said, were the straw which broke the camelís back.

We shall continue, as you see, to fight our frontal attack. Iím now talking about several organisations which have been involved in the fight for freedom of speech in this region for a long time. These are not our individual problems and everything which has been done in the past six months has been done together. Our future activities will be organised in the same way.


Veran Matic: There are certainly going to be moves from the parliament, even without our initiative for the twenty MPs. I am also certain that there is still time for certain members of the Council to react, thatís another initiative. The third initiative could be the launching of legal proceedings, something which could prove that part of the decision was illegal. There is a whole series of options and we will take each of them.

Many media companies and associations are interested in these activities because we are all increasingly wondering whether, if the members of the Council which have been nominated by professional associations, the universities and the civil society can be outvoted in this way, it means that bad times are ahead for these sectors. I think it does mean that and I am counting on the fact that this awareness will influence the organisation and lead to the launching of a whole range of activities aimed at forestalling a position where a large part of the society will be without objective information, will be prevented from living in a society with democratic media. Rade Veljanovski spoke, among other things, as a representative of Radio Belgrade, an institution which has made vast improvements in transformation to a public company now on the brink of that transformation. This could be finished very quickly but suddenly this considerable leap forward has been put in jeopardy. The ramifications could be very difficult and very bad. All progress could collapse. This is why this not only an issue for our profession, it is a problem for the entire society. When it comes to parliamentary parties and possible initiatives, everyone should think about it. Only equal access to media, unbiased media, can enable the democratic functioning of those parties. If someone wants to use the legislation in another way, and weíve seen that the parliament violated its own legislation in this case, then this is all leading in a highly undemocratic direction and it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to say so in public and to do everything possible to stop this retrograde process.


Questions from journalists

By the end of the session, had any of the councillors even partly changed their views from the previous discussion?

Milivojevic: There were three rounds of voting because the law requires that the candidate for chairman is supported by a two-thirds majority. Because no candidate was supported by a two-thirds majority in the first round, Mr Cvetkovic nominated Nenad Cekic. Professor Vodinelic nominated Professor Radojkovic. Neither of the two candidates were supported by the majority in the first or second round. There were four votes, then five, then six votes for the candidate who was elected. Six votes were needed.

Yes, during the discussion Ė and it lasted six hours Ė there were moments when it seemed that the undisputed councillors would succeed in preserving the right not to constitute the body until all members were elected under direct procedure, but that did not happen. Radojkovic challenged Cekicís nomination on this basis Ė that a councillor elected under illegal procedure had been nominated as chairman.

So itís no longer about the appointments being problematic but about promoting the disputed election into the Councilís working principles Ė because it is being promoted: a man who was elected in that way has been promoted to president and that is now the Council, it is no longer the parliamentís problem. Now we have the problem of the constituted Council. Professor Radojkovic also warned that it was not appropriate that a candidate proposed by the government be the president of the Council. The Council must think even at that level about promoting independence from the government and the parliament.

Can you tell us who voted for Mr Cekic?

Milivojevic: No, I can not.

Is it fair to say that the authorities now have a majority in the Council?

Milivojevic: I cannot tell you anything about the first question because I havenít looked and I am not interested in it at all. I am interested in the outcome of the vote and the way councillors spoke. I can ask you all why the first half-hour of our discussion about whether the session should be open to the public or not was not witnessed by media. I supported an open and public session while at the same time only RTS and BK crews were present, but I didnít see it later on television. Why did the media not care about turning up there and fighting for it, applying pressure for the Councilís sessions to be public. I think this is another interesting topic for discussion. I still think that the principle of public openness of the work, which is provided for by the law, must be defended. But I also believe that media must not accept that state institutions, regardless of their rank and the way they were elected, are communicating with them via press releases. Press releases are not the way the public should be informed about the work of public institutions.

Is it possible for an incomplete Council to function?

Milivojevic: Unfortunately for the nominators Ė although itís not so unfortunate after all, because once the councillors are elected they really do not have any responsibility to the institutions which proposed them but are defending the public interest on behalf of the organisations which proposed them with all their skill and knowledge Ė the Council can work once itís been constituted and provided that the number of members does not drop below five the Council can operate and make decisions which require a two-third majority. The law specifies that the same group of authorised nominators Ė professional associations Ė may once again enter the nomination procedure. Within three months at the latest they are required to submit proposals to the parliament and the parliament must then within thirty days elect one of the two candidates.

Do you see a solution?

Milivojevic: The first solution I saw was the one I proposed yesterday, that the Council express its autonomy and insist on the respect of the law. I apologise for returning to this but, when you conclude with regret at the Council session that the Parliament has not respected the law, what will the Council do when broadcasters fail to respect operating regulations? Conclude with regret that they are not respecting them? What would the Council do in each complex decision which demands a firm basis in the defence of the law and confrontation with conflicting interests? The fact that this is not the majority opinion in the Council is something which disturbed me deeply yesterday and which is why I donít know what kind of action can be effective next.

However I still believe that the public is the only ally which the Council, as an autonomous body, can have in the future. Pressure from professional associations. Demands, not pressure. Demands. Because this is an obvious case of violation of the law. There are no arbitrary interpretations. If in such cases the parliament itself cannot correct the decision, then I donít know what to say. I donít see any decision on which regulations to respect and which should not be put into procedure. I accepted membership of this body because I am aware that it has a historic role in creating conditions which will remove the direct influence of politics on the media. The removal of the regulatory function from the parliament, from the authorities, to an autonomous body which functions on the principles of expertise, and publicly defined, established, comprehensive criteria is the only opportunity to put the chaos in our media in order.

We are the last country in Europe to adopt this kind of legislation, regardless of the fact that our politicians like to say that we have done it more rapidly than any other country in transition. There are 45 regulatory bodies in Europe. They have the European association, they exchange experiences, standards are defined, there is a large repository of experience, assistance we could count on in solving some of the complicated and difficult problems. The only condition required of the Council is to have an undisputed reputation and support from the public. It cannot have that with a start like this. That is why I think that correcting the parliamentís decision is now not the only problem.

If the authorities have a majority in the Council now, what consequences do you expect in the distribution of frequencies?

Milivojevic: I think that the problem here is not that the authorities have the majority, but that the regulatory body has not been elected in a way which would guarantee its autonomy. I donít know whether the authorities have the majority, whether large commercial companies have crucial influence, whether itís ignorance, whether itís malice. I canít talk about that right now. I can only say that there is suspicion, there is a handicap on the bodyís work, that it is burdened with a certain illegality for which of course it cannot be blamed, but it has now agreed to share it and it will discredit it in the area of autonomy and independence. I can expect only disastrous consequences from this, I can expect only bad consequences because, according to our law, the regulatory body is one with enormous authority. It is primarily responsible for the strategy of broadcast development, it defines the plan, the vision of media development in this country. It has authority over both the commercial media and a major service Ė it appoints the board of directors of Radio Television Serbia, it supervises and, in a certain way, facilitates the transformation of Radio Television Serbia. It is in charge of frequency allocation and broadcast permits, it prescribes criteria, defines programming standards and works on media monitoring, not as censorship but as respect of the standards to which broadcasters oblige themselves when they receive permits. It is therefore a body with enormous authority and I simply donít know how it will cope with all that authority if it has the problem of a contentious public reputation.

 

 

Front page of special

News

Chronology of events

 


DOCUMENTS

Media situation in Serbia, May 2003

Invitation to dialogue between government and media

Full text of the demand to replace two members of the Broadcast Agency Council

 


ANALYSIS

Srecko Mihajlovic: Lost in advance: the battle against pubic

Does the law not matter?

IFJ Warns of “Damage to Integrity of Broadcasting Law”

SEEMO Concerned over Press Freedoms in Serbia

 
FORUM

OSCE urges new election for broadcast monitoring body

CPJ concerned about government harrassment of the press

IPI Serbia Alert

RWB Call for re-election of council

OSCE urges transparency in media appointments

ANEM: repeat Broadcast Council election

NGOs shun Broadcast Council debate

EC Charge d’Affaires: Cause for concern

US Ambassador Extremely Disappointed at Status of Media

Verena Taylor: Legal procedure was not respected

OSCE Chairman: Laws may never be broken

Head of OSCE Mission: (1) “Aware of certain criticism”

Dimitrijevic: Against flouting of law in name of public interest

Head of OSCE Mission: (2) The law was broken in the Broadcasting Council’s constituting

Andric: Decision will stand

Milivojevic: If there is suspicion about autonomy form outset, Council will not be able to operate.

Veljanovski: There is deliberate negative pressure from the authorities.

Lucic-Cavic: Angry that candidate of professional associations, one of our greatest media experts, won’t be sitting on the Council

Matic: Not only an issue for our profession, it is a problem for the entire society

Lucic-Cavic: We could have survived another month

Milenkovic: Will broadcasters follow Parliament’s suit in breaching law?

Radulovic: Guiding principle was bad

Zink: Govt and parliament should consider grounds and response


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