16Jan96: CPJ Urges Creation of Independent TV in FRY

Catherine Fitzpatrick (europe@ccmail.cpj.org)
Thu, 16 Jan 97 16:27:07 EST

Jan. 16, 1997

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

Dear Mr. President Milosevic,

I am writing to you as chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists
to draw your attention to an issue of paramount importance for the
international community and the people of the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia (FRY): an independent public television channel.

As you know, Radio Television Serbia (RTS), the state television
company, has three channels seen throughout the Federation. We
strongly urge the adoption of new regulatory structures for state and
private broadcasting which would strive to ensure the complete
editorial independence of radio and television news coverage.

However, at this moment of grave political tension, as an essential
first step towards this goal, we recommend that the news division of
at least one of these three channels be turned over as soon as
possible to an editorial board of professional journalists of
recognized integrity and political independence.

There are several compelling reasons for such an action. First,
television is supported by Yugoslav tax payers, that is, all viewers
must pay for a mandatory television subscription included in their
electric bills. Because they are paying for it, Yugoslav citizens have
the right to demand greater independence and diversity in television
news programming.

Second, the Serbian government has a total monopoly over television
broadcasting. Journalists were surprised to learn recently, for
example, that demonstrators bussed into Belgrade in recent weeks had
no knowledge of the large public opposition rallies there or the
issues surrounding the contested municipal elections. This lack of
television coverage of the most basic fact of civic life in Serbia
now_large, peaceful, daily demonstrations in Belgrade and other
cities_ raises serious questions about the climate for press freedom
and democracy in Serbia. Such biased coverage runs counter to the
promise you signed in our meeting on December 8 in which you agreed to
support a free media in FRY.

I respectfully urge you to do everything in your power to facilitate
the creation of an independent public channel. A public broadcasting
board, including members drawn from opposition forces and the
independent media, should be founded as soon as possible. Some kind
of agency to distribute frequencies should be established with
multi-partied parliamentary oversight. Currently, only temporary
licenses are issued for broadcast frequencies. Please give serious
consideration to organizing a public auction for frequencies with the
awarding of permanent licenses, as has been done elsewhere in the

As you know, elsewhere in Europe, in countries undergoing transitions
to democracy, these issues have become the subject of new electronic
media laws. Currently the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia does not
have adequate legislation concerning these matters. If such laws could
be drafted soon_with extensive public and parliamentary debate_it
would go a long way toward improving the extremely tense climate now
prevailing in many cities of Yugoslavia.

Mr. President, the only road back to international respectability
includes a free media_the one ingredient which separates democracy
from every other form of government. I am not asking anything more
that what you yourself have committed to deliver both during the
Dayton negotiations and during our conversation last month. The
matter of an independent media is more urgent now that it has ever
been before.


Kati Marton
Committee to Protect Journalists