20May97: Censorship of Serbian Opposition TV and Radio

Catherine Fitzpatrick (europe@ccmail.cpj.org)
Mon, 19 May 97 21:27:50 EST

May 20, 1997

His Excellency Slobodan Milosevic
President of Serbia
Via Fax: 011-381-11-656-862

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to strongly
protest the censorship and harassment of Serbian opposition TV and
radio broadcasters by government officials.

According to BK Telecom management in Belgrade, a local ruling party
official, Miladin Ivanovic, has effectively shut down the BK TV
affiliate in the town of Pec, sealing the independent station's rented
studios after the broadcaster refused Ivanovic's demand that BK TV
stop airing news programs. Although the local interior ministry banned
a May 16 demonstration called by residents to protest the move, a
crowd gathered near BK TV studios. Station Director Nebojsa Radunovic
pleaded with the crowd to disperse. Nevertheless, police detained him
and questioned him for two hours. The police dispersed the rally and
confiscated BK TV's videotape of the gathering as well as film taken
by several stills photographers. BK TV managers said that their parent
company has leased a space for its own transmitter for nearly a year,
but state-run Serbian Radio-Television (RTS) has prevented their
engineers from installing the equipment.

In a separate incident, the daily Serbian newspaper Dnevni Telegraf
reported on May 11 that Serbian Information Minister Radmila
Milentijevic threatened punitive actions against opposition-run
Radio-Television Kragujevac for its statements that state-supplied
news bulletins contain "lies."

According to reports by Agence France Press and Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty about the May 11 article, Milentijevic said the
management of Radio-Television Kragujevac "should pay for" routinely
warning radio listeners that the official news bulletins which the
station is forced to air are fallacious. The minister warned that
state-run RTS "must take control of Kragujevic Radio-Television and
bring its management to justice." The Zajedno opposition coalition,
which controls the town council, took over the station's television
operations in January following mass demonstrations and appointed the
station management. But its radio division is still forced to air
RTS-produced news announcements twice daily.

Milentijevic also attacked the broadcasting of foreign radio stations
into Yugoslavia: "We don't have any need for radio like Deutsche
Welle, Voice of America and [Radio] Free Europe." she said.

As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending our colleagues
around the world, CPJ is deeply distressed by the oppressive reaction
of officials from the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) angered
by their loss of control over the mass media.

The threats by the Serbian Information Minister against
Radio-Television Kragujevac, and her attacks against foreign radio
station broadcasting, as well as local censorship of BK TV and the
order to broadcast news bulletins by the state-run RTS are blatant
violations of international guarantees to protect the free flow of
information regardless of frontiers. They also clearly contradict
your personal pledge not to obstruct the free media.

CPJ urges you to abide by your promises to respect the freedom of the
media and to act promptly to prevent officials of your government from
taking punitive actions against the press.

Thank you for your attention. We await your comments.


William A. Orme, Jr.
Executive Director