Freedom of the Press - Serbia [Serbia and Montenegro] (2006)

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 12
Political Influences: 17
Economic Pressures: 11
Total Score: 40

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 73
Religious Groups: Orthodox (65 percent), Muslim (19 percent), Roman Catholic (4 percent), other (12 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Serb (63 percent), Albanian (17 percent), Montenegrin (5 percent), Hungarian (3 percent), other (12 percent)
Capital: Belgrade

The government is increasingly respectful of constitutionally protected press freedom rights, but impunity for crimes against the media and frequent prosecutions of journalists persist. The Serbian Parliament adopted a new criminal code in September, under which libel is no longer punishable by imprisonment but remains a criminal offense punishable by high fines or up to six months in jail when the individual cannot pay the fine. Before the new code came into effect, an editor received a one-year suspended prison sentence for libeling a businessman. Media organizations were critical of government efforts to implement the Access to Public Information Act in Serbia. In Montenegro, where progress has been slow, a draft Freedom of Information law was proposed in May. In August, a Serbian parliamentary committee adopted amendments to the Broadcast Act, giving greater voting power to Members of Parliament. The amendments also extend the privatization deadline for local government-operated media until 2008 and delay the privatization of Radio Television Serbia.

Media are diverse and active and publish freely despite pressures. However, some journalists, often those at local media outlets, do resort to self-censorship and choose not to express critical views or investigate issues such as war crimes. In Montenegro, many outlets have close ties to either the ruling coalition parties or the opposition. In December, the Montenegro Radio and Television Council dismissed the director of public broadcaster TV Montenegro (TVCG). The TVCG editorial staff resigned in protest, alleging that the dismissal was politically motivated. In July, the municipal assembly in the town of Valjevo replaced the editor in chief of a local weekly with a member of the Socialist Party. The mayor of Vranje threatened independent journalists and reportedly refused to give them official information. In October, the offices of a local Vranje weekly were ransacked; it was their third such break-in in recent years. In Belgrade, the independent broadcaster B92 was frequently criticized for being anti-Serb. In July, a bomb threat forced the evacuation of B92 premises; and in November, the car of a B92 journalist was destroyed. In June, the editor in chief of the independent daily Danas received death threats after the newspaper identified an area where an indicted war criminal was reported to be hiding. In September, unknown assailants beat a local correspondent for the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti. Media organizations protested the lack of progress in the investigations into the 2001 and 1999 murders of Serbian journalists Milan Pantic and Slavko Curuvija. In Montenegro, one suspect is still on trial, and a second suspect was arrested a year after the 2004 murder of Dusko Jovanovic, editor of the opposition daily Dan.

Although there is a good amount of media diversity and pluralism, press freedom is limited in the UN-administered province of Kosovo owing to unreformed legislation and a politicized environment. The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Office of the Temporary Media Commissioner regulate the media. The current criminal code allows for three-month-long prison terms for libel. The Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo (APJK) reported that media are frequently harassed and that authorities often do little to protect journalists. In June, Bardhyl Ajeti, a journalist for Bota Sot, Kosovo's leading Albanian language daily, was shot from a passing car. Ajeti, who was frequently criticized for his articles, died three weeks later. This was the second shooting of a Kosovo journalist in eight months. Most media rely on international aid. The Serbian minority is often underrepresented in the media. The APJK reported that the Kosovo Protection Corps blocked media from filming a visit by Serbian president Boris Tadic.

There are numerous private media outlets in both Serbia and Montenegro, although the large number makes them highly dependent on advertising and some newspapers have resorted to "tabloidization" to sell more copies. Despite ongoing legal reforms, ownership transparency is weak and privatization has slowed. The Serbian government continues to publish a popular daily, Borba, as well as owning one of the main printing houses. In Montenegro, few newspapers have been privatized. There are a large number of public, state-owned, and private broadcast outlets, including 16 private television and 39 private radio stations. Although local media are generally diverse, they often rebroadcast Belgrade-produced and foreign programs. Internet access is unrestricted, but authorities selectively monitor e-mail conversations for the 14 percent of the population that had internet access in 2005.

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