Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2003 - Serbia-Montenegro

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 2003
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2003 - Serbia-Montenegro, 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46e69171c.html [accessed 19 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), which since 1992 has comprised Serbia and Montenegro, became the federal republic of Serbia-Montenegro on 4 February 2003 after an agreement between the two entities at the insistence of the European Union. Serbia and Montenegro will stay in loose association for at least three years, after which they will be able to choose independence.

Serbia-Montenegro is the only part of former Yugoslavia that has not yet joined the Council of Europe. However on 29 August 2002, the Yugoslav leadership accepted the conditions for membership of the Council of Europe, including continuation of legal reforms concerning the media.

Kosovo is autonomous and has been under international rule since Serbian troops withdrew in June 1999, but it officially remains part of Serbia-Montenegro under UN Security Council resolution 1244, which was passed the same month.

Serbia

The press freedom situation has improved little since the start of democratisation on 5 October 2000. The killings of journalists Slavko Curuvija (April 1999) and Milan Pantic (June 2001) remained unpunished. Journalists still had to work under the threat of political pressure and excessive legal action. None of the promised major legislation to thoroughly reform the public media and strengthen its independence was implemented.

Parliament adopted on 18 July 2002 the 10th version of the first press law since democratisation began in 2000. But since the members of the broadcasting authority's council had not yet been elected, the law was not put into effect. The two main problems with revamping the media – assigning broadcasting frequencies and reforming the Serbian radio and TV (RTS) – were not solved. Media outlets not allowed to operate under the old regime still had no licences while those that were close to the Milosevic regime still retained their privileges.

The promise to reform the government-controlled media into truly public services was not kept and top officials of RTS were still often appointed on recommendation of the government or the ruling political parties. Local media were also very dependent on the authorities. Especially tough defamation laws enable figures of the past and present regimes to take journalists to court without good reason.

New information about journalists killed before 2002

The former head of Serbian radio and TV (RTS), Dragoljub Milanovic, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 21 June 2002 by a Belgrade court for causing the death of 16 RTS staff during NATO bombing of one the RTS buildings in the capital on 23 April 1999 during the Kosovo war. The court said he had failed to obey an order to evacuate staff to a safer place even though he knew the building could be a target and that people would be killed.

Legal action against him began on 12 February 2001 to determine whether he had prior knowledge of the air raid. The victims' families also took the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Their suit against the 17 NATO countries who are also ECHR members was rejected on 19 December that year by the court, which said the European Human Rights Convention did not apply to actions outside the territory of the 41 Council of Europe member-states that had ratified the Convention. The FRY is not a member-state.

Serbian interior minister Dusan Mihajlovic said on 20 December 2002 that police knew who had killed Slavko Curuvija, publisher of the newspapers Dnevni Telegraf and Evropljanin, but could not say who it was because the anti-gang laws had not yet come into force. Curuvija was shot dead by two masked men in front of his Belgrade house on 11 April 1999 as he arrived home with his wife.

He had been constantly harassed for his critical writings about the Milosevic regime. In March 2001, some Belgrade media had already said police knew who killed him and who was behind the murder. His widow said state security officials were protecting the organisers of the murder. His brother, Jovo Curuvija, blamed interior minister Mihajlovic for lack of progress in the investigation.

Journalists threatened

Dragan Erakovic, correspondent of the daily paper Danas and editor of the daily Glas Podrinja, was threatened with a beating by Dragan Milosevic, a businessman in the western town of Sabac, on 21 January 2002, after he had reported on a press conference about the sacking of workers at the firm.

Staff of the daily paper Nacional received a threatening letter on 5 February from an unknown organisation called "Serbia OSBN" which accused the paper of wanting to bring back the Milosevic regime by reporting on high-level corruption in the present government. The letter said "all journalists will end up in hospital if they're not already dead" and concluded with the words "Death to Nacional! Freedom for those who fought and liberated themselves from terror on 5 October 2000!" (the day the old regime fell). The paper's editor, Predrag Popovic, said it had already had death threats after running critical articles about the prime minister and other top officials.

A grenade were thrown on 5 March at the house of Mihajlo Peric, head of Radio Paracin, who said the attack was linked to his work at the radio station.

Pressure and obstruction

Culture minister Branislav Lecic filed a libel suit on 18 January against the weekly NIN and journalist Radmila Stankovic for an article on 6 December 2001 accusing the minister of abusing his position by unduly favouring a play.

Also on 18 January, Vesna Sladojevic, chief editor of Apolo TV in Novi Sad (Voivodina), began legal action after being dismissed for writing an article criticising the Novi Sad city government, which had set up the station.

Stevan Niksic, editor of NIN, was given a five months suspended prison sentence on 26 January for libelling former communist dissident Milovan Djilas in a reader's letter NIN printed on 21 June 2000. The suit was brought by his son Aleksa.

Natasa Odalovic, a journalist for Radio Free Europe and the daily Danas, was questioned by police on 11 July about an article she wrote in Danas on 5 July about accusations of links between organised crime and the government of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic made by Aleksandar Tijanic, communications adviser of federal President Vojislav Kostunica. A few days earlier, Odalovic had written to Kostunica expressing fears for his safety.

Vladimir Radomirovic, editor of the weekly Reporter, was interrogated by police on 12 July about an article he wrote saying listening devices had been planted in government buildings. The journalist refused to reveal his sources.

The daily Danas and its editor Grujica Spasovic were ordered on 5 August to pay 150,000 dinars (2,400 euros) each for libelling writer and former Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic. In an October 2001 article, journalist Milan Colic had said Cosic, by ordering the bombing of Vukovar, was responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people and therefore could not be considered an intellectual. The paper then publicly admitted it had made a mistake and published a denial by Cosic, who noted he was not president when Vukovar was bombed.

A court in Kragujevac fined Gordana Bozic, of the weekly Nezavisna Svetlost, on 25 September for libelling the city's mayor, Vlatko Rajkovic, in an article about leaders of youth groups, backed by political parties, being involved in various rackets.

Hundreds of posters appeared in Belgrade on 4 October with a picture of Veran Matic, head of the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) and chief editor of the radio station B92, with the caption "Caught with his hand in the till!" Vladimir Beba Popovic, head of the government information office, was suspected of being responsible for the posters and was later dismissed.

From mid-September, media close to Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic launched a campaign against independent radio and TV stations. At peak viewing times, pro-government TV stations BK and Pink accused Matic of secretly selling off B92 radio and TV the expense of its staff. Radoslav Ljubisavljevic, one of the leaders of Djindjic's Democratic Party, sued B92 TV for slander after the station said he had been given a two-year suspended prison sentence in 1994 for abuse of power and forgery.

The trial began on 5 November of four journalists in the southern town of Vranje – Veselin Pesic, correspondent for the daily Politika i Blic, Dragan Veljkovic, correspondent of the daily Vecernje novosti, Ljiljana Stojanovic, correspondent of the daily Glas javnosti and Sasa Stojiljkovic, of the local paper Slobodna rec – for libelling Nenad Stankovic, former head of the firm Yumco. Articles in 2001 had accused the company of selling police and army uniforms, along with other equipment, to Kosovo ethnic Albanian extremists. The journalists had based their articles on official information supplied by the police. They had later reported that the firm's management had been cleared by the court in Vranje.

Montenegro

Laws about the media greatly improved but journalists were still liable to be jailed for media offences.

Despite disagreement between parliament and the government, parliament approved three wide-ranging media laws on 16 September 2002 drawn up with the help of Council of Europe experts. The new parliamentary majority elected on 6 October brought the laws forward, to come into effect on 20 November instead 1 May 2003.

A body was set up to assign radio broadcasting frequencies, which had previously been done in a dubious way. The independence of public media was guaranteed, including financially. The government however was to fund a programme to promote science, education, culture and information in the Albanian language. But despite these important reforms, libel laws still provided for imprisonment of journalists for between three months and three years.

Pressure and obstruction

Parliament amended the public information law on 28 July, obliging the media to take into account the views of officials of the ruling political parties in drawing up their editorial policies. It also passed a law curbing sources of information and the number of articles that could be published about each party during an election campaign. The two measures, endorsed by President Djukanovic, clashed with the three other media laws the government had drafted 10 days earlier with the help of Council of Europe experts.

Vladislav Asanin, former editor of the Podgorica daily Dan, was sentenced to a month in jail on 18 November for libelling businessman Stanko Subotic. Asanin had been given a five-month suspended prison sentence in September 2001 for reprinting articles from the Croatian weekly Nacional accusing Subotic of involvement in cigarette smuggling in the region. On 6 December that year, he received a three-month jail sentence for "causing moral distress" to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who was also named in the articles. Asanin appealed the verdicts to the country's supreme court. On 13 June 2002, Dan was ordered to pay 15,500 euros in damages to Djukanovic. At the end of May, the prosecutor's office in the Italian city of Bari began investigating Djukanovic for links with organised crime and cigarette smuggling.

Kosovo

The Temporary Media Commission (TMC) set up by the United Nations in June 2000 has the job of ending incitement to hatred and violence in the written and broadcast media. It sets a code of journalistic conduct and encourages the use of right of response to combat the many defamatory statements made in the media by rival political groups.

New information on a journalist killed before 2002

Police from the UN Mission in Kosovo (MINUK) arrested three people on 8 October in an enquiry into the murder of Bekim Kastrati, a journalist on the Albanian-language daily Bota Sot, who was shot dead in an ambush in Kosovo on 19 October 2001. He had just taken part in a parliamentary election campaign rally of the Kosovo Democratic League (KDL), headed by moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, when his car was machine-gunned. The paper supported the KDL.

Pressure and obstruction

The Zurich office of Bota Sot was the target of an attempted bomb attack on 27September, but the fuse of a powerful parcel bomb failed to work.

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