24July97: 55 Radio and TV Stations Shut Down in Serbia

Catherine Fitzpatrick (europe@ccmail.cpj.org)
Thu, 24 Jul 97 19:20:28 EST

July 24, 1997

His Excellency Slobodan Milosevic
President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Fax: +381-11-656-862

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to strongly
condemn the widespread crackdown on the broadcast media in Serbia
since Your Excellency became the president of the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia last week. The closing of 55 small independent radio and
television stations throughout Serbia appears related to efforts by
the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) to position itself for
parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia in September.

According to a July 23 statement by ANEM, the Association of
Independent Broadcast Media in Serbia, in "the largest ban we have
seen," federal and republic-level state institutions have mounted a
coordinated campaign to close radio and television stations within
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On June 2, the Yugoslav Ministry
for Transport and Telecommunications published a June 30 deadline for
the submission of documentation necessary to receive an operating
license. Broadcast journalists complained to CPJ that the new
procedure was confusing and contradictory and the deadline impossible
to meet. As a result dozens of stations with incomplete documentation
have been left in limbo and have failed to obtain even temporary
licenses. Officials refuse to explain how and when such stations can
be legalized. Even those stations which complied with the ministry's
demand and submitted the necessary paperwork have been subjected to
arbitrary pressure and even closure.

In addition to imposing a ban on the stations, authorities have
confiscated broadcasting equipment, and broadcasters who attempt to
file complaints have received no response.

TV Trstenik, a station with a valid license, was the first local
station to begin working independent of ruling party control after the
victory of the opposition Zajedno coalition in local elections in
November 1996. Radio B92 in Belgrade said inspectors of the federal
Telecommunications Ministry began closing six radio stations close to
the opposition in Kraljevo in southern Serbia on July 18. The
independent newspaper Nasa Borba recently reported that only one radio
station, which supports the SPS, remains in Kraljevo. Other radio and
television stations were closed in Pozarevac, Novi Pazar, Pancevo,
Cacak, Sabac, and elsewhere (a complete list is available from CPJ).

Authorities have objected to the emergence of numerous pirate stations
since the rise of the opposition last year. CPJ recognizes the need
for the regulation of broadcasting, but strenuously objects to the
autocratic manner in which it is being done. First, there is currently
no federal broadcasting law, only a series of arbitrary government
regulations. Second, the telecommunications ministry is making claims
that the stations are a "threat to public welfare," indicating that
their motivations for the closures are political, not procedural.
Third, minute bureaucratic discrepancies are seized upon in a
station's application to arbitrarily shut it down, without forewarning
and without remedy through the courts. Fourth, the telecommunications
authorities are calling in other state agencies such as the tax and
economic crime police in order to find pretexts to shut down stations,
suggesting that the order to close independent stations emanates from
the highest levels of the state and constitutes an orchestrated attack
by the ruling party.

The closure of the 55 media outlets is in stark contrast to assurances
made by the new Serbian Minister of Information, Radmila Milentijevic,
that no stations would be shut down before the elections, as well as
pledges made by Your Excellency to CPJ board member Kati Marton in
December 1996 that the free media would be permitted to operate
without obstruction throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

As an organization devoted to advocacy on behalf of the independent
media worldwide, CPJ deplores the current broadcast media clampdown
and calls for immediate granting of temporary licenses to the 55 radio
and television stations until a just, coherent procedure for frequency
allocation, accessible to all broadcasters and with sufficient time
for preparation, is developed under a federal telecommunications law
with the participation of elected representatives and the public.

Thank you for your attention and we await your comments.

William A. Orme, Jr.
Executive Director

cc: Ambassador Zoren Popovic
Ambassador Dragomir Djokic