10Mar97: Serbia's BK Telecom Loses Lease

Catherine Fitzpatrick (europe@ccmail.cpj.org)
Mon, 10 Mar 97 14:06:10 EST

March 10, 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 express its
great concern about the recent threat to BK Telecom, an independent
television company in Serbia operating BK TV. On March 5, BK Telecom
received a letter from Radio-Television of Serbia (RTS), the state-run
broadcasting company, stating that BK TV's lease for use of
transmitter sites at Misenluk, Venac, Jastrebac, Crni Vrh and Goles
would expire within 15 days, and that the agreement to use frequencies
at Jastrebac, Crni Vrh, and Goles was terminated.

According to BK TV's editorial board, BK Telecom had a valid agreement
with RTS for the relays of its programs and had regularly paid
expensive leasing fees. BK TV says it is the only station that has
received such a cancellation, ostensibly dictated by RTS's need for
technical expansion. The RTS cancellation also ignores the terms of
the lease, which specify six months' advance notice for such

Open Media Research Institute has reported that BK Telecom, owned by
Serbian entrepreneur Bogoljub Karic, has the capacity to reach an
estimated 60 percent of Serbia's population. It has increased its
criticism of President Milosevic in recent weeks, possibly in
anticipation of Karic's reported efforts to launch a political party
to run against the ruling Socialists in elections later this year.

As an organization devoted to the protection of press freedom around
the world, CPJ is concerned that the state-run RTS's sudden
cancellation of BK Telecom's agreement, in violation of the terms of
the lease, is politically motivated. The action appears to be a
direct attempt to limit BK TV's broadcasting to Belgrade, thus
depriving it of an outlet to the provinces.

In November 1996, you met with CPJ chairman Kati Marton and signed a
pledge to tolerate free media throughout the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia (FRY). Ms. Marton has repeatedly written to you since then
concerning the need to permit independent television programming in
FRY. We urge you to ensure that BK Telecom's agreement is honored and
that BK TV is allowed to continue relaying its programs to cities
outside Belgrade.

Again, CPJ must also remind you of the case of Radio Boom 93, still
off the air more than three months after the government's shutdown on
December 3, 1996. Boom 93 had a history of independent broadcasting
throughout the war in the former Yugoslavia, airing criticism of
Serbia's policies as well as support of democratic principles. While
Radio B92 and other stations in Belgrade and elsewhere have been
allowed to resume broadcasting, Boom 93, located in President
Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac, the base of the Socialist Party, is
still silent. As CPJ noted in a letter to President Milosevic on
January 8, communications authorities have ignored Boom 93's repeated
application for a renewal of a license and an attempt to take part in
a frequency auction. CPJ strongly urges you to ensure that Boom 93 is
allowed to resume broadcasting.

Thank you for your attention and we await your comments.


William A. Orme, Jr
Executive Director


Ambassador Zoren Popovic
Ambassador Dragomir Djokic