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Serbia14 August 2006

Four-month suspended sentence for TV editor who broadcast viewers’ SMS messages

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the decision of an appeal court in the southern city of Prokuplje on 10 August to uphold a suspended four-month prison sentence for Slavko Savic, the director and editor in chief of a local television station, TV Kursumlija, for broadcasting SMS messages from viewers that were deemed to be defamatory.

“A journalist cannot be given a prison sentence for broadcasting a message he did not even write,” the press freedom organisation said. “We call on the Belgrade high court to overturn this ruling.”

The sentence is the result of an action brought by a member of the Kursumlija municipal council, Slavko Ilic, who alleged that he was defamed in SMS messages from viewers about the theft of a bottle of grape brandy from a local shop, although he was not named in the messages.

Savic has announced his attention to appeal to the Belgrade high court against the sentence, which stipulates a probationary period of 12 months. He is convinced that he was prosecuted for political reasons, because his station had criticised the policies implemented by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) at the local level.

The aim is “to silence all criticism” and to get the conditional prison term turned into a real one, Slavic claimed.

Two other actions have been brought against Savic by Slavoljub Carapic, the president of the Kursumlija municipal council. They accuse him of defamation and broadcasting a report about his election campaign without his agreement. Savic argues that since Carapic is politician and public figure, he did not need his accord.

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