Hopes in 2001 for quick reform of the news sector and press legislation were disappointed. The former manager of the state radio and television (RTS) was put on trial for his share of responsibility in the deaths of sixteen of RTS’s employees during the NATO bombardment in April 1999.
The freedom of information was one of the main achievements of the democracy that followed the fall of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in October 2000. The main instruments of repression were made inoperable, as in the case of the 1998 law on public information, or suppressed as in the case of the Ministry of Information, but no major texts for an in-depth transformation of the sector or for reinforcing public media independence came into force. The delay in reforms was in part explained by the lively public debate on reforms. The draft "law on information" is the furthest along. A final version written with the concurrence of the Council of Europe and submitted for far-reaching consultation by the Association of Independent Serbian Journalists has now by and large been agreed upon, although some journalists feel that the mere application of the penal code and the rules of the professional organisations would be enough to supervise press freedom. The "law on radio broadcasting" should also be adopted in 2002 after an eighth version was finally considered satisfactory in October. Aleksander Crkvenjakov, manager of the Public Serb Radio and Television (RTS) felt on 22 October that the law should not come into force before the end of the 2002. But the two main roadblocks to reform of the information sector-the assignment of wavelengths to the audiovisual media and reform of the RTS-hang suspended as long as the law has not been adopted. With the assignment of wavelengths frozen in 2001 by a moratorium, all media that had been refused broadcasting authorisation by the previous regime are still without licences, whereas the media that had been close to power, especially the two television groups, TV Pink and TV BK, are creating new channels and reinforcing their positions. Moreover the commitment by the authorities to change state media into public information services has not yet been done. RTS is still a state medium as well as the press agency, Tanjug; newspaper Borba, Radio Jugoslavia and television station Yu Info are all funded by the state budget. RTS, with debts of over twenty million euros, ageing equipment and over-staffing, is especially dependent. The key positions at RTS are often filled by cronies suggested by the government or the majority parties. On 27 August the Independent Electronic Media Association (ANEM) indicated that "there are still signs of political pressure on Serbian Radio and Television and on the editorial board". Local media too are especially dependent on the public authorities. And the penal code, which is especially repressive in libel matters, has not been amended.
A journalist killed
On the morning of 11 May 2001, Milan Pantic, a correspondent in Jagodina (in the centre of Serbia, some 140 km south of Belgrade) for the Belgrade daily, Vecernje Novosti, was found murdered in front of his home. According to the town’s public prosecutor, he had been hit in the head with a sharp instrument. The journalist had recently published a series of articles about big-scale crime in the Jagodina region. As of 1 January 2002, the investigation had not arrived at any results.
New information on journalists killed before 2001
On 12 February 2001 legal proceedings were opened in Belgrade against Dragoljub Milanovic, the former general director of Serbian Radio and Television (RTS) in order to determine whether he had been informed of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) intention to bomb the RTS building on 23 April 1999 as part of the airborne strikes against the Yugoslav Federal Republic during the Kosovo conflict. Sixteen RTS employees, on duty on the night of the attack (cf. Reports 2000 and 2001), died in the bombing. In an investigative report made public on 22 November 2000 and entitled "Serbian Radio and Television: the Chronicle of a Scheduled Martyrdom", Reporters Without Borders accused RTS officials of having consciously left its employees in ignorance about the imminent bombardments by NATO. Dragoljub Milanovic was first arrested on 13 February but released again on 23 April following a Supreme Court ruling. He was charged on 2 August. The trial opened on 13 September and hadn’t ended by 1 January 2002. In November the victims’ families accused public prosecutor Krsman Illic of minimising the charges against Dragoljub Milanovic and of dragging out the trial. Various former RTS officers, when examined as witnesses, asserted they had no prior knowledge of the 23 April 1999 bombings. RTS’s former editor-in-chief, Milorad Komrakov, asserted that he had never ordered the employees to remain in the building during the raids.
At the same time the victims’ families brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), lodging a complaint against the seventeen Member states of NATO and the Parties to the European Convention of Human Rights, i.e. Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. On 24 October 2001 the first public hearing was held in the Court’s Great Chamber and dealt only with the case’s admissibility. The plaintiffs maintain that the defending states are all responsible for the bombing and that the grievances formulated come under the jurisdiction of these states according to article 1 (the obligation to respect human rights) of the European Convention of Human Rights. They invoke their right to effective recourse according to article 13 of the Convention. On 19 December the Court rejected their suit, stating in its judgement that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was not part of the "legal space of the contracting states" and that the European Convention of Human Rights did not apply to the extra-territorial actions of the forty-one countries of the Council of Europe that ratified it.
On 11 April several hundred journalists and friends of the Serbian journalist, Slavko Curuvija, managing editor of the newspapers Dnevni Telegraf and Evropljanin, murdered in front of his Belgrade residence on 11 April 1999, demonstrated in Belgrade for the authorities to implement all means necessary to identify the murderers. In March the colluding Belgrade media alleged that the justice department knew the identities of both the hit-man and the man behind the journalist’s murder. They asserted that the hit-man is said to have since died but that the person behind the murder would soon be arrested and that the murder had no connection with the state’s secret services. Slavko Curuvija’s widow denounced a sleight of hand and expressed her belief that members of the state’s security services were trying to cover up the identities of the real culprits. On 14 April Djordje Martic, former editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Ekspres Politika, declared that the article published in Ekspres Politika on 6 April 1999 a few days before the journalist’s murder, calling him a "traitor" and accusing him of being in favour of the NATO attacks, had been written on the orders of Mirjana Markovic, president of the Party of the Yugoslav Left and wife of Slobodan Milosevic. On 16 October Jovo Curuvija, the murdered journalist’s brother, felt that nothing had been done to shed light on the murder and accused the Minister of the Interior, Dusan Mihajlovic, of being "either incompetent or unwilling to find evidence". On 12 November 2001 the Serbian police said they had worked up a Photofit picture of the murderer based on "reliable information". Jovo Curuvija questioned the seriousness of this announcement and felt that help from foreign police forces was necessary. There is very little information available about the conditions of the murder beyond the fact that the journalist was regularly followed by the secret police.
Three journalists attacked
On 20 January 2001 armed men shot at the doors and windows of Rajko Djurdjevic’s house; he is a journalist for television channel TV Palma. The assailants scrawled "KLA" (Kosovo Liberation Army) on the walls of the house. The night before, Rajko Djurdjevic had spoken on TV Palma about incidents in the previous days provoked by the Albanian guerrilla movement in the southern part of Serbia.
On 13 February Italian journalist Vicenzo Luca Geddes da Filicaia, working for the newspapers, Il Foglia, La Nacional and Il Socolo, was beaten by a armed group of ten men in Konculj, a village located in the area controlled by the Presevo Liberation Army, Meveda and Bujanovac (PCPMB), an Albanian guerrilla movement fighting for the annexation of this southern part of Serbia to Kosovo. His portable computer, his cell phone and 200 DM (102 euros) were stolen.
On 25 December Vojin Vojinovich, a journalist for Radio Beograd 202, was attacked in Belgrade by two unidentified individuals who beat him violently on the back and head. The radio station also declared it had received written threats.
Four journalists threatened
On 29 March 2001 unidentified individuals broke a window in the offices of the private radio station, Ozon, in the centre of Cacak in the south of the country. Stajan Markovic, the station’s manager, said that this incident was an attempt at intimidation following a programme in which some very sharp criticism was levelled at Cacak’s mayor, Velimir Ilic, and local government representatives. Radio Ozon works in close collaboration with Radio B92 in Belgrade.
On 21 December the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists’ made public the threat made in 2001 against several journalists from the southern town of Cacak by its Mayor, Velimir Ilic. Dragan Novakovic, journalist for the weekly, Nedeljni telegraf, says that he was insulted and threatened on several occasions by Velimir Ilic. Another journalist, Svetalana Zaric, provided the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists with tape recordings of the threats against and pressure put on her by the town’s mayor.
On 21 December Dusan Raseta, a journalist for Radio Beograd 202 in Belgrade, received anonymous threats following the airing of information about illicit trafficking in birds. The radio’s editorial board asked the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Agriculture to condemn these threats.
Pressure and obstruction
On 22 August 2001 speaking at a public meeting in the town of Kraljevo President Vojislav Kostunica blamed the independent daily, Danas, for "treating him less well that it had Milosevic". Danas, moreover, was verbally attacked on several occasions in 2001 by civil servants criticising it for its critical tone of the President.
On 31 August the employees of Kragujevac town hall in the centre of the country, with the help of a few dozen policemen, destroyed the antenna tower of the Globus television channel, built without a permit. Zarko Rajkovic, Globus’s manager, felt that it was the leaders of the Democratic Party (that of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic) in Kragujevac who were behind the tower’s destruction.
On 20 September the Yugoslav police banned the journalists of RTV Nisava, a medium of the Roma community broadcasting in Nis, from all access to the channel’s offices and sealed off the doors. RTV Nisava was broadcasting without a licence. The moratorium on the allocation of wavelengths forcing any new channel to broadcast without permission, RTV Nisava’s editor-in-chief, Boban Nikolic, said on 5 October that the banning of the channel’s broadcasts "represents the smothering of Roma news and their assimilation" into Yugoslavia. On 10 November the Serbian special police confiscated a video cassette belonging to a crew from independent television Urbans in Novi Sad (capital of Vojvodina, 80 km north of Belgrade). The cassette contained pictures of a demonstration organised the same day by the Unit of Special Operations of the Serbian Police to protest against the authorities’ collaborating with the International Criminal Tribunal of The Hague. On 13 November Novi Sad’s chief of police, Stevan Pecelj, returned the undamaged cassette and presented his apologies.
On 15 November Marina Fratucan, editor-in-chief of the Urbans television channel in Novi Sad, accused the recently appointed officers of the state radio and television, RTV Novi Sad, of applying pressure on the editorial line of the independent channel. RTV Novi Sad’s manager, Petar Jovanovic, and editor-in-chief Milovan Nedeljkov, said that the collaboration with Urbans had been broken off, because editor-in-chief Fratucan refused to inform them of the contents of the independent channel’s programmes. The Association of Independent Journalists in Vojvodina accused the management of RTV Novi Sad of censoring Urbans’ programmes. RTV Novi Sad leaders have refuted these charges. On 12 November the Vojvodina parliament asked the Serb government to include a provision in the radio broadcasting law that would transfer the supervisory power on RTV Novi Sad to the parliament in Vojvodina.
On 15 December a complaint for libel was lodged against Veselin Simonovic, editor-in-chief of the Belgrade daily, Blic, by several police officers of the southern town of Nis. This complaint followed on the daily’s publishing a list, first made public by the weekly, Reporter, of several hundred names of persons, including policemen, who were being sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for questioning as suspects in or witnesses of exactions committed by the Serbian forces in Kosovo in 1999. Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, declared that the list had been published by Reporter, to "turn the police against the government". On 23 November Vladimir Radomirovic, editor-in chief of Reporter, and Jovia Krtinic, journalist at the weekly, were questioned by the police about their sources for the information. To apply pressure on the journalists, the police were meant to have used provisions of a law regularly used under the Slobodan Milosevic regime, including article 218 of the penal code about the "circulating of false information". Also questioned, the editor-in-chief of Blic called for a new law guaranteeing journalists the principle of protecting their sources of information.
On 21 December Dobrica Cosic, one-time president of the former Yugoslavia, sued Dan Graf, founder of the Belgrade daily, Danas, and Grujica Spasovic, its editor-in-chief, for their publishing an article on 6 October attributing to him part of the responsibility for the attack by Serbian forces on the town of Vukovar during the war against Croatia. Danas editorial staff say that Dobrica Cosic is demanding 6 million dinars (102,000 euros) and damages. The daily published a right-to-reply by the former president.
The authorities used the laws against libel to fight criticism of their involvement in a cigarette-smuggling racket in the Balkans.
Montenegro was considered rather liberal towards the media before the change in regime in neighbouring Serbia, but now its rulers are regularly accused by the opposition of interfering with press freedom and closely supervising the official media. The press takes a risk if it discusses relations with Serbia and the future of the Yugoslav Federation, the plight of minorities, especially Albanians, and the various rackets the province’s leaders are suspected of being involved in. Defamation remains a crime and penalties ranging from heavy fines to imprisonment are handed out. On World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2001, several human rights organisations, along with writers, journalists and officials, called for reform of the defamation law, which they said could be used to prevent the media criticising state institutions. On 14 August, the Council of Europe and the European Agency for Reconstruction announced a joint project to harmonise Montenegro’s press laws with European norms, especially where radio and TV was concerned, with experts to be sent to Montenegro to train officials and journalists. The head of Serbia’s radio and television (RTS), Aleksandar Crkvenjakov, and his Montenegrin counterpart, Goran Rakocevic, signed a cooperation agreement on 3 August to ensure that ties between the two bodies "remain strong whatever the outcome of talks on the future of the Yugoslav federation."
Pressure and obstruction
On 7 January 2001, the Serbian Orthodox Church banned seven journalists working for the official Montenegrin radio and TV and the daily paper Pobjeda from covering its Orthodox Christmas celebrations in response to what it considered the excessive attention paid by these media to the new Montenegrin Orthodox Church. Velibor Covic, head of Montenegrin TV, deplored the move as a violation of the right to inform. He said the media were not in the business of deciding "which church is legitimate or not, or who should or should not be excommunicated" and said the press refused to act as if the new church did not exist. Montenegrin information minister Bozidar Jaredic condemned the Serbian Orthodox Church’s attitude as unacceptable.
The equipment of Radio Busola, the only privately-owned station in Herceg Novi and the Boka Kotorska region, was stolen on 11 April. The radio has been set up by journalists formerly with Radio Herceg Novi, run by the town of Herceg Novi, and had left the station after elections that produced a new town council whose policies they disagreed with.
The prosecutor’s office in Podgorica began legal action on 23 August against Milija Prelevic, of the opposition daily Dan, and Tanja Nikolic, of the daily Glas Crnogorca, for "incitement to national, religious and racial hatred." The two journalists had in several articles expressed concern about "the spreading of the Macedonian syndrome to Montenegro" and a possible revolt by ethnic Albanians in Montenegro.
The tax police called on the media on 31 October to help fight the black market by supplying all information they had about individuals placing announcements or advertisements. The Podgorica daily Vijesti refused this request and asked the authorities to fight the black market by other means. Information minister Jaredic said the media were free to cooperate or not with the request.
Vladimir Asanin, former editor in chief of the opposition daily Dan, was sentenced by a Podgorica court on 6 December to three months in prison for libelling President Milo Djukanovic. The presiding judge, Miladin Pejovic, said he had strictly applied the media law that clearly established the editor in chief’s responsibility and had passed the maximum sentence allowed. Asanin’s lawyer denounced the verdict as absurd and appealed against it. Djukanovic had sued the editor over articles that accused him of being involved in cigarette-smuggling in the Balkans. The articles, which also mentioned links between Serbian prime minister Zoran Djinjic and organised crime, had already appeared in the Croat weekly Nacional, which was also sued by the Montenegrin president. On 4 December, the interior minister accused the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) and its secretary-general, Oliver Vujovic, of propaganda and manipulation for saying it had learned that people close to the Montenegrin secret police were planning a physical attack on the managing editor of Nacional, Ivo Pukanic. Asanin had already been given a suspended five-month prison sentence on 3 September for similarly libelling businessman Stanko Subotic and had then resigned as editor. A third suit was brought against him on 18 December by a basketball club, Buducnost, that he also mentioned as involved in the smuggling racket.
Very heavy self-censorship, threats from criminal elements and persistent tension between ethnic Serbs and Albanians are formidable obstacles to the free flow of information. One journalist was killed.
Two years after the withdrawal of Serbian troops, impartial information is clearly seen by politicians and criminal elements as a threat to their power and influence in the province and journalists are still forced to censor themselves heavily. The few who dare to write about racketeering, corruption, extortion or killings are threatened or attacked. Most do not bother to lodge complaints in the atmosphere of impunity in the province or even report them publicly for fear of reprisals. In 2001, most of the Albanian-language media favoured the guerrillas of the Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja Liberation Army (OVPBM), which is fighting for the transfer of these parts of southern Serbia to Kosovo. The multi-ethnic radio station Kontakt, which relays some programmes of the independent station B92 in Serbia, is the only radio or TV station that still has links with the media in Serbia.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo, which supervises the local media’s news coverage, cracks down on calls for violence. In the run-up to the campaign for the November 17 parliamentary elections, it punished violations of the election rules laid down by the OSCE that require the media to give balanced coverage to the various parties contesting the election. The daily paper Bota Sot, which is close to Ibrahim Rugova’s Kosovo Democratic League (LDK), was heavily fined for violating the press and election laws. At the same time, new radio programmes were broadcast by the OSCE mission and the Swiss-based NGO Media Action International (AIM) to encourage the growth of civil society and democracy. The Kosovo radio and TV (RTK), set up in 1999 by the OSCE, was strengthened as a public service medium in May 2001 with a board composed of three members from the international community and six Kosovo representatives nominated by NGOs, the Kosovo Journalists’ Association, Pristina University and trade unions. Representation of political currents is forbidden. RTK’s charter says it must "give a voice to all communities in Kosovo" and must broadcast daily at least 15 per cent of its general interest programmes in the province’s minority languages. The first meeting of the board on 25 September was hailed by OSCE mission chief Daan Everts as a major step towards pluralism of information. A press centre for Serbian-language media was opened in September in Kosovska Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo.
A journalist killed
Bekim Kastrati, of the Albanian-language daily Bota Sot, was shot dead on 19 October 2001 in an ambush in Srbica, in central Kosovo, in which Besim Dajaku, one of moderate Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova’s security detail, was also killed and a third person wounded. The three men had just attended a rally in support of Rugova’s Kosovo Democratic League as part of the 17 November parliamentary election campaign. On their way home, their vehicle was overtaken by a jeep whose occupants opened fire on them with submachine guns. Rugova called it a "politically-motivated" attack against his party, Kosovo’s institutions, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and freedom of the press.
Several unidentified Serbian Kosovar journalists were stoned on 28 March 2001 as they were travelling in an OSCE vehicle over the River Ivar bridge that divides the Serbian and Albanian sectors of the town of Kosovska Mitrovica.
Rados Radonjic, a Serbian employee of the Serbian TV station RTS based in Kosovo, was seriously wounded by gunfire on 19 October in Devet Jugovica (about 10 km north of Pristina), a Serbian village enclave in ethnic Albanian territory where many ethnic clashes have occurred in recent years.
Pressure and obstruction
A DM50,000 (25,000 euros) fine on the Albanian-language daily Bota Sot for violating United Nations regulations and the media code of conduct was confirmed on appeal on 21 February 2001. The paper had been fined on 29 November 2000 by the UN media commissioner in Kosovo, Simon Haselock, for publishing the previous September two articles which could have endangered the lives of people mentioned in them. Haselock said the fine was heavy because the paper had ignored many warnings, had a large circulation and readership in Kosovo and had "blatantly ignored its responsibilities."
The Albanian-language press in Pristina reported on 20 March that its publishers had received anonymous phone threats accusing them of "collaborating with the Albanian occupiers."
The chief editor of the Albanian-language Pristina daily Epoka e Re, Imer Muskolai, resigned on 22 October because of what he said were "serious threats" from an unidentified person.
The OSCE mission in Pristina fined Bota Sot DM5,500 (2,800 euros) on 31 October for violating election rules requiring balanced coverage of the contesting political groups. The appeals sub-committee said the paper had not given fair and balanced coverage of the 17 November parliamentary election campaign and had given much more space to Ibrahim Rugova’s Kosovo Democratic League (LDK) than to the other parties.
Epoke e Re was fined DM1,000 (511 euros) on 12 November for violating election rules about fair coverage by showing "a clear bias" against the LDK and in favour of the PDK and his leader Ashim Thaci.