HRW protest
Fri, 13 Feb 98 15:34:38 -0500

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave. 34th floor
NY, NY. 10118
Telephone: 212-216-1270
Facsimile: 212-736-1300

For Release on February 16, 1998

To:Yugoslav President Slobodon Milosevic
fax 38111-3111668
Serbian President Milan Milutinovic
fax 38111-684679
Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs Zivadin Jovanovic
fax 38111-681572
Yugoslav Min. of Transport and Telecommun. Dojcilo Radojevic
fax 38111-3244414
Serbian Minister of Information Radmila Milentijevic
fax 38111-685937
Yugoslav Secretary for Information Goran Matic
fax 38111-600446

February 16, 1998
Dear Sirs:

Human Rights Watch, the largest U.S.-based human rights
organization, condemns your government's ongoing attempts to
restrict the independent media in the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia (FRY). Your consistent unwillingness to establish a
clear and democratic set of laws to regulate the electronic media
violates your government's obligations under Serbian, Yugoslav,
and international law to guarantee freedom of the press and
freedom of expression.
The open bid for temporary radio and television frequencies,
announced on February 6, only complicates the matter. Like the
laws regulating the electronic media, the legal procedures for
the open bid are confusing, inconsistent, and in contradiction
with other Serbian and Yugoslav laws. For example, only
companies that are registered with the Ministry of Information
and the Commercial Court may submit a bid. But this requirement
contradicts Serbian law since, according to the Law on Radio
Television, a company first needs a frequency in order to
register with these bodies. The cost of participating in the
bid, the technical conditions required, and the documents needed
from other government-run agencies are insurmountable barriers
for the private radio and television stations that exist in FRY.
Human Rights Watch views the most recent open bid as a
continuation of the government's policy to deny, through
complicated and unduly burdensome legal procedures, frequencies
to those radio and television stations that do not conform to the
state's narrow definition of "acceptable information." These
stations are allowed to operate, thereby demonstrating to the
international community an apparent respect for free speech.
But, as the past has demonstrated, the government may close down
a private radio or television station without a licence at any
time. An estimated 300 private radio stations and 100
private television stations in FRY are currently in this
precarious position. In contrast, government-run stations or
commercial stations with close ties to the government, like Radio
Kosava or BKTV, have consistently obtained licences and are free
to broadcast without interference.
In mid-1997, for example, the government closed seventy-seven
independent, opposition-run or commercial television and radio
stations on the basis that they were "illegal." Many of the
stations did not posses the proper licenses, in fact because the
government consistently refused to grant licenses to stations
that broadcast critical views of the state.

Human Rights Watch therefore calls on the FRY government to:

* To prepare new media laws and regulations, in full
consultation with the independent media in Yugoslavia, that
guarantee freedom of expression in television and radio.
Concrete changes in the Serbian Law on Radio Television, the
Serbian Law on Communication Systems, the Serbian Laws on Public
Information, the Federal Law on Communication Systems, and the
Federal Law on Public Information should guarantee that broadcast
licenses are distributed and regulated by an independent body
without regard to political considerations.

* Until a new series of federal and republican laws are
introduced, permit all currently licensed, and all unlicensed but
currently operating, radio and television stations to broadcast
without interference. No regulation of the airwaves should take
place until Yugoslavia has a new set of media laws and
regulations that guarantee free expression in accordance with
international standards.

* Consult with the independent media and its organizations,
such as the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM),
on a regular basis about ways to protect and promote the
independent media.

Human Rights Watch will continue to monitor the development of
FRY's media legislation and its application. We note that
freedom of the media is a fundamental requirement for lifting the
outer wall of sanctions currently in place against FRY and
reintegrating the country into the international community.



Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

cc: Richard Miles, United States Embassy in Belgrade
Robert Gelbard, U.S. Special Envoy to the Balkans
Bronislav Geremek, OSCE Chairman-in-Office
Robin Cook, E.U. Council of Ministers
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the former

The Electronic Media in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

The broadcast media in Serbia is regulated by five laws: the
Serbian Law on Radio and Television, the Laws on Connection
Systems (Serbian and federal), and the Laws on Public Information
(Serbian and federal). In addition, a number of state bodies are
involved in regulation, including the Ministry of Transport and
Telecommunications, the Ministry of Information and the
commercial courts. Many of the relevant laws and regulations are
contradictory and allow the government to grant or deny licenses
to those stations it desires. For example, under current
regulations, the Yugoslav Ministry of Transport and
Telecommunications requires applicants for a broadcast license to
provide proof that the station has been registered as a public
media outlet at the Ministry of Information and at the
appropriate commercial court. But these documents cannot be
obtained without first having a license from the Ministry of
Transport and Telecommunications. Even taken individually,
Serbia's broadcast laws do not guarantee that licenses will be
allocated on a non-discriminatory basis. Article 5 of Serbia's
Law on Radio and Television gives the government a very broad
discretional right to grant licenses, while article 10 (6) of the
same law allows the government to revoke licenses under vague
terms. Article 7 of the law obliges the government to hold an
open auction for frequencies once a year, but the last auction
was held in 1994.

As a result, since 1989 independent radio and television
stations (like Radio B-92 or Radio Boom 93) have been repeatedly
denied a license without an explanation even though they
apparently met all of the criteria, while stations that were
either blatantly pro-Milosevic or, at least, commercial and
wholly uncritical (like RTV Pink or BK TV) easily obtained
licenses for large parts of Serbia. The most extreme example was
Radio Kosava, run by Milosevic's daughter, Marija, which obtained
a frequency by government decree without even submitting an

The independent broadcast media was, therefore, severely
limited in its effectiveness, leaving the state controlled
television and radio to disseminate government propaganda
unchallenged, as in the past. Many people in Serbia and abroad
blame the state media for encouraging the war in former
Yugoslavia by distorting facts and promoting xenophobic, extreme
nationalist views.

Despite these barriers, Serbia's independent radio and
television stations played an important role during the 1996-97
demonstrations by disseminating information, often directly from
the streets, that offered an alternative to government
propaganda. Unlike during the war, which was never fought inside
Serbia, audiences could contrast the state media's coverage with
their daily experiences at home. The daily audience of the
larger stations, specifically Radio B-92 and Radio Index in
Belgrade, rose to over one million. Smaller stations throughout
Serbia rebroadcast B-92's transmission, thus providing many
people in the countryside with an alternative to the state-run
media, which was misrepresenting the purpose and scale of the
demonstrations. In acknowledgment of their effectiveness, the
government attempted to ban or close a large number of radio
stations, including Radio B-92 itself, which responded by sending
daily news over the Internet.

Most often, the state justified the closures by claiming that
the station in question did not have the proper license to
broadcast. In most cases, this was true, a consequence in large
part of the government's persistent refusal to grant such
licenses to independent radio or television stations. Many of
the stations that were closed following the November 1996
elections, all of them either independent or oppositional, had
been operating without interference for the past three or more
years, suggesting that they were closed strictly for political

In May 1997, the Serbian Minister of Information, Radmila
Milentijevic, promised that there would be democratic reform in
the electronic media and that no private television or radio
station would be shut down before the September 21 elections.
Despite this, on June 2, the Yugoslav Minister for Transport and
Telecommunications, Dojcilo Radojevic, announced the need to
"establish order in the broadcast media." All "pirate" radio and
television stations, he declared, would be permanently banned if
they failed to apply for a temporary broadcast license by June
30, 1997. However, the ministry did not clarify which documents
were required to apply for a temporary license or on what
criteria applications would be considered. According to
journalists and the Association of Independent Broadcast Media, a
local network of independent radio and television stations, the
procedure at that time for submitting the application was
confusing and contradictory.

Shortly after the June 30 deadline, and in some cases before
the deadline, the government initiated a coordinated campaign
among the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications, the
criminal police, the financial police and various government
agencies to shut down more than seventy-five radio and television
stations across Serbia and confiscate some of their equipment
without warning, even though some of the stations had submitted
all of the necessary documentation. All of the closed stations
were either independent, run by the opposition or commercial and
unconnected to the government.

On February 6, the government announced another open bid for
temporary radio and television frequencies, even though it had
never replied to the bids submitted in June 1997. To apply for a
bid, stations must meet a number of criteria, such as be
registered at the Ministry of Information and Commercial Court,
have the proper licences for electronics and construction, and
provide an as-yet undisclosed fee.

For more information about the media in FRY
see the following sources:
Human Rights Watch report, "Discouraging Democracy: Elections and
Human Rights in Serbia", 12/96
Radio B92 website:
ANEM website:
Committee to Protect Journalists website:
Press Now website:
MedienHilfe website:
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia website