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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Yugoslavia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Yugoslavia, February 1997, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
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.

Independent media in Yugoslavia, which now consists of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, struggled with technical, legal and financial problems throughout the year. Nasa Borba (Our Struggle), the independent newspaper in Belgrade founded after the ruling Socialist Party took over the original Borba in 1995, for the most part maintained a circulation of under 30,000 because of high paper costs and distribution difficulties. Meanwhile, the pro-government daily Politika benefited from well-equipped offices and boasted a circulation of 300,000.

Late in the year, however, these figures changed dramatically, after demonstrations began against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party. Opposition supporters, at times numbering in the hundreds of thousands, took to the streets on Nov. 18, the day after Milosevic annulled opposition victories in municipal elections throughout Serbia. The demonstrations continued every day into the new year. The political unrest sent sales of independent tabloids soaring – Nasa Borba's readership jumped 60 percent, while Politika's circulation reportedly dropped to 45,000.

As sales of independent newspapers peaked during the demonstrations, so did government suppression of the media. Belgrade's only independent radio station, Radio B92, experienced constant interference with its transmissions as it reported on the demonstrations. State-run media almost completely ignored the political turmoil. The government eventually cut B92's broadcasts from the airwaves altogether, along with those of five radio stations in Cacak that were broadcasting B92 segments. Radio station Boom 93, in the town of Pozarevec, and Radio Index, a student-run Belgrade station, were also shut down. Radio B92, Radio Index, and only one of the Cacak stations were back on the air within 52 hours, after outcry from the international community.

CPJ Chair Kati Marton traveled to Belgrade as soon as the Committee learned that the government had attempted to silence B92. Marton met with Milosevic and, during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, obtained his verbal assurance that he would not suppress B92. Marton presented the Serbian president with a handwritten document saying that he was committed to supporting "a free press and the right to publish and broadcast without censorship freely in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." Milosevic first ripped up the document. Marton quickly re-drafted a second version on a scrap of the original. Milosevic crossed out the words "without censorship" and signed the paper.

Although the demonstrations in Belgrade began very peacefully, by the 36th day violence broke out among opposition marchers, Milosevic supporters the government had bussed to the capital from outlying areas, and Serb police. During the next two days, journalists became frequent targets of physical attacks by police. CPJ documented 11 assaults by Serb police on camera crew members, photographers, and reporters. One protest marcher was killed on Dec. 24.

Meanwhile, there was no independent television coverage of the demonstrations, because the government in February had taken control of the only independent television news station, NTV Studio B, in a maneuver reminiscent of the 1995 Borba takeover.

Government harassment of the media reached outside the country's political centers as well. In the predominantly ethnic Albanian region of Kosovo, in southern Serbia, the prosecutor's office stopped the printing presses at the Albanian-language weekly Koha because the prosector was offended by a satirical composite photograph in the issue that depicted Milosevic alongside men in Nazi uniforms. In Podgorica, Montenegro, police brought managers of the independent radio station Antenna M to the local police station for "talks" after Antenna M aired a popular local singing group's live performance of a satirical political song. By year's end, the Montenegrin government had announced that it would auction the rights to Antenna M's frequency, a move that jeopardizes the station's future. Antenna M's editors doubt they would be able to buy back the frequency because other stations that enjoy more government support would likely offer higher bids.

February 15

Police from the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) entered the offices of NTV Studio B, the only independent television news station in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and shut down its broadcast equipment. The Commercial Court annulled Studio B's registration as a joint stock company, allowing Belgrade's Municipal Assembly to gain control of the station. Most of Studio B's employees are being replaced by members of the Municipal Assembly or the SPS. CPJ urged President Slobodan Milosevic to allow Studio B to resume broadcasting without state interference.

March 9

During a live broadcast of an opposition party rally, the transmission of B92, Belgrade's only independent radio station, was blocked. According to the station's political news editor, the transmission jammed 17 or 18 times while it was broadcasting the 35-minute speech of Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic, and three to four times during the 20-minute speech of Zoran Djindjic, the Democratic Party leader. The editor said they believe the police caused the transmission problems since it is only possible to block transmissions from police stations. She said this happened every time the station covers an event about the opposition party. B92 Radio did not complain to the authorities this time because they have done so in the past and received no response.

April 7

Six policemen entered the printing offices of Koha, an Albanian-language weekly magazine in Pristina, and ordered that printing stop until they examined the issue's contents. The prosecutor's office apparently took offense at a satirical composite photograph that depicted President Slobodan Milosevic alongside men in Nazi uniforms. For two hours, police questioned the director of the printing office. By law, police can intervene only after printing. Officials from the general prosecutor's office later told employees at the printing offices not to print issues of Koha without prior consent. Editors at Koha decided not to provide their materials to police before publication. On April 10, the manager at the printing press received informal permission from the prosecutor's office to proceed, and Koha was allowed to publish.

May 29

The Municipality of Smederevo voted unanimously to increase its ownership of Radio Smederevo from 17 to 63 percent. With majority ownership, the Municipality immediately installed members of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) on the station's executive board, appointed a Party member station manager, and cut off electricity at the station's offices to ensure the success of the takeover. Radio Smederevo was the only independent broadcast outlet in the region; prior to the Municipality's vote, Radio Smederevo's employees owned 83 percent of the station. CPJ urged authorities to reinstate the station's original staff and board.

October 18
Milovan Brkic, Srpska Rec, ATTACKED

Brkic, an investigative journalist for the opposition-owned monthly journal Srpska Rec and a candidate for the city assembly, was escorted from his office by two plainclothes state security policemen who presented their badges and asked to speak with him. Once outside, the two officers pushed Brkic into a car and drove him to an undetermined location outside Belgrade, where other state security policemen were waiting. The officers then undressed Brkic, beat him with sticks, and kicked him. Brkic was eventually released and taken to a hospital, where doctors determined he had suffered three broken ribs, a damaged spleen, and a concussion. Before the attack, in the latest issue of Srpska Rec, Brkic had published an article on the links between state security and organized crime. CPJ appealed to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to launch an immediate investigation into the attack and to ensure that any further intimidation of the press is immediately halted.

November 27

The state-owned Borba publishing house refused to print more than 70, 000 copies of the independent daily Blic. The newspaper had started a press run of 250, 000, with coverage of widespread demonstrations in Belgrade against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his government. The entire editorial board of the newspaper resigned after it was told to stop reporting on the demonstrations.

November 29
Radio Ozon, CENSORED
Radio Soliter, CENSORED
Dzoker Radio, CENSORED
Radio 96, CENSORED

The Yugoslav Federal Inspector for Traffic and Communications banned five independent radio stations in Cacak, one of the cities in Serbia where the opposition defeated supporters of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in the recent municipal elections. Milosevic annulled the election results. Some of the stations had been broadcasting news programs from Belgrade's independent station Radio B92. Serb authorities in December suspended B92 for 52 hours, amid widespread demonstrations against Milosevic and his government.

November 29

Authorities threatened not to extend the frequency license of Antenna M, the only independent radio station in Podgorica, Montenegro. Antenna M had been broadcasting reports from Radio B92, the independent radio station in Belgrade that was later shut down by Serbian authorities for 52 hours. The harassment of the radio stations was related to widespread demonstrations that began in November in Belgrade against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his government. Antenna M also broadcasts news reports from Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. On Dec. 28 the station received a notice from the Ministry of Industry and Energy of Montenegro that its frequency, 87.6 MHz, would be auctioned off at an unspecified date after the new year. The notice informed Antenna M that it was welcome to "compete" for the highest bid. The editor in chief told CPJ that the station would not be able to bid as much as competing companies that are more supportive of the government. CPJ appealed to President Momir Bulatovic to ensure that the auction for Antenna M's frequency be canceled and that the station be permitted to continue broadcasting. At year's end the station's license was renewed.

December 3

Authorities banned Boom 93, a private independent radio station in the town of Pozarevec, from broadcasting. The station owned its own transmitter and was operating under a temporary license. The ban occurred the same day the Belgrade independent station Radio B92 was taken off the air during widespread demonstrations against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his government. While B92 regained the right to broadcast on Dec. 5, authorities continued to keep Boom 93 off the air.

December 3

Radio B92, the only independent radio station in Belgrade, was taken off the air by order of the Federal Ministry for Transport and Communication of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Ministry claimed that B92 did not have a valid license to operate. The station had applied for a license repeatedly since 1991, but its petitions had been rejected or ignored. B92 had experienced constant interference in its transmission since it began covering widespread demonstrations against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's annulment of Nov. 17 municipal elections. Opposition candidates in the elections, held throughout Serbia, had defeated Milosevic supporters. On Nov. 27, the station's signal was blocked four times during news broadcasts about the protest marches. On Nov. 28, other signals, most likely sent by the government to interfere with B92's transmission, began jamming B92's entire programming from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. B92's staff, however, continued to gather the news and disseminate it by electronic mail, and their programs were broadcast on Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Deutsche Welle. B92 was also able to post the latest news from Belgrade on its Internet site on the World Wide Web. On Dec. 5, B92 was allowed back on the air as Serb authorities backed down under intense pressure from demonstrators and from the international community. CPJ Chair Kati Marton traveled to Belgrade on Dec. 6 and met with Milosevic to raise the radio station's plight. She obtained assurances it would be allowed to broadcast. Marton held two press conferences in Belgrade about the problems B92 and other media in Serbia are facing. On Dec. 12, B92 obtained a 10-year contract with Radio and Television Serbia, allowing it to broadcast over a state-owned transmitter. In the meantime, the station will continue working to obtain its own frequency.

December 3
Radio Index, CENSORED

Radio Index, a student-run independent station in Belgrade that shared a transmitter with the independent station Radio B92, was taken off the air by Serbian authorities along with B92. The shutdowns occurred amid widespread demonstrations by students and others protesting Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's decision to annul the recent opposition victories in municipal elections. Authorities claimed Radio Index had been cut off because of technical problems. The station was back on the air 48 hours later.

December 3
Radio Ozon, CENSORED
Radio Soliter, CENSORED
Dzoker Radio, CENSORED
Radio 96, CENSORED

Radio Ozon, Radio Soliter, Dzoker Radio, Radio 96, and Star FM, all independent radio stations in Cacak, were taken off the airwaves. The Belgrade independent station Radio B92 was also stopped from broadcasting. The actions occurred during widespread demonstrations against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his regime that began after Milosevic annulled November municipal elections in Serbia. Opposition candidates had defeated Milosevic supporters in Cacak, Milosevic's birthplace, Belgrade, and other cities throughout Serbia. B92 was restored to the air Dec. 5, as was Radio Ozon. The other four stations remained off the air.

December 6
Independent Press Center, THREATENED, HARASSED

Wire services to the International Press Center in Belgrade, an equipped work space available to foreign correspondents, were cut off with no explanation. Authorities claimed the problem was due to technical failures. The incident occurred during widespread demonstrations in Belgrade against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his regime. Before the wire services were cut off, the press center's restaurant and coffee bar, where correspondents often met to discuss events, were closed. And on Dec. 12, drinking water to the center was cut off. One correspondent reported that the center has been threatened with closure for the three months since Milosevic appointed a new director to the state-run news agency Tanjug, which owns the center.

Late December
Ognjen Radosevic, Dnevni Telegraf, ATTACKED
Alexander Lamakin, Associated Press Television (AP-TV), ATTACKED
Alexander Mursa, Associated Press Television (AP-TV), ATTACKED
Ivan Milutanovic, Associated Press (AP), ATTACKED
Oleg Chupin, NTV, ATTACKED
Rade Radovanovic, Nezavisnost, ATTACKED
Momcilo Miloyevic, Politika, ATTACKED
Djordje Nikolic, ORF, ATTACKED
Nikola Majdak, Radio B92, ATTACKED
Branko Filipovic, Reuters TV, ATTACKED
Petar Kujundzic, Reuters, ATTACKED

During ongoing demonstrations that swept Belgrade after Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic annulled the victories of opposition candidates in Nov. 17 municipal elections, police attacked several camera crew members, photographers, and reporters. On Dec. 24, Radosevic, a photographer for Dnevni Telegraf, was beaten. On Dec. 26, Lamakin and Mursa, Russian cameramen for AP-TV, and AP photographer Milutanovic were beaten; and Chupin, a cameraman for Russia's independent station NTV, was beaten and hospitalized and his camera destroyed. On Dec. 27, the camera crew for London's ITN station were attacked and their camera destroyed; Radovanovic, a reporter for the Serbian independent trade union newspaper Nezavisnost, who was recognized by plainclothes police as a journalist, was beaten on his legs and head; and Miloyevic, a correspondent for Politika, the official government newspaper, who was not covering the demonstration but was watching the attack on Radovanovic, was beaten and kicked severely, as was his wife. Also on Dec. 27, Nikolic, a cameraman with Austria's ORF station, was very seriously beaten and hospitalized and his camera destroyed; Majdak, a cameraman for Belgrade's Radio B92, was beaten and hospitalized; a cameraman for the Rome station TV-5 was beaten and hospitalized; Filipovic, a cameraman for Reuters TV, was beaten and his camera smashed; and Kujundzic, a photographer for Reuters, was beaten. According to other reports, journalists from the daily newspapers Blic and Nasa Borba were also physically attacked. When the journalist from Nasa Borba hit the ground, he reportedly yelled to policemen that he was a member of the press, and they replied, "What press?" and continued to beat him. CPJ appealed to President Milosevic on Dec. 28 to cease any further attacks on journalists during the demonstrations and to uphold the personal written commitment he had signed with CPJ Chair Kati Marton on Dec. 6 to ensure free broadcasting and reporting.

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