Area: 56,540 sq.km
Head of government: Prime minister Ivo Sanader
Area: 10,887 sq.km
Language: Albanian, Serbian
Head of government: Prime minister Hashim Thaci
Area: 25,710 sq.km
Head of government: Prime minister Nikola Gruevski
Area: 88,361 sq.km
Head of government: Prime minister Vojislav Kostunica
Area: 20,250 sq.km
Language: Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian
Head of government: Prime minister Janez Jansa
Political and ethnic divisions continue to interfere with the work of journalists in a region still struggling to recover from wars and its politicians dislike editorial independence and criticism. Violence and war still loom over the region, especially in the Serbian breakaway province of Kosovo.
The past constantly haunts the media in Serbia and Croatia. Ultra-nationalist Serbian Unity Party leader Borislav Pelevic sued Filip Svarm, author of a film series, along with its producers, the weekly paper Vreme and the TV station B92, in February 2007 claiming the series was “anti-Serbian lies.” The films have been shown several times and also awarded the Jug Grizeli film prize. Pelevic, a former commander of Serbian military volunteers, charged that B92 had been “paid to take an anti-Serbian stand” and questioned the nationality of Svarm and the head of TV B92. He said witnesses shown in the films were either “paid or drug addicts,” adding that if a Serbian journalist had made such a film in Croatia about the Croatian secret police, the author would have been executed.
Journalist Zeljko Peratovic was arrested at his home in Croatia in October for “revealing state secrets” after posting documents on his blog (peratovic.net and peratovic.blog.hr) about war crimes committed in the southeastern Croatian village of Gospic in the 1990s. He said a vice-president of parliament as well as the defence minister at the time, Gojko Susak, were involved. He faces up to three years in prison. He was freed a day after his arrest thanks to international pressure.
A neo-Nazi group in Serbia made death threats on its website in April against the Beta news agency chief in Voivodina, Dinko Gruhonjic, whose reporting on the group in the town of Novi Sad resulted in a one-year prison sentence for its leader in November 2006.
A hand-grenade exploded on 14 April outside the Belgrade home of Vreme journalist Dejan Anastasijevic, who specialises in war crimes and criminal gangs, after he had received threats. Police arrested eight ex-members of the Scorpions paramilitary group, which was involved in the July 1995 killings of Muslim civilians in Srebrenica, on 9 May. Four ex-Scorpions had been given prison sentences on 10 April, which Anastasijevic had criticised on radio station B92 a few days before the grenade attack as being too lenient.
B92 was also attacked in May by the Serbian Radical Party, which accused it of criminal behaviour by denouncing war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. The station is under constant pressure, ranging from threats to its journalists to an attempt to sabotage the car of one of its employees. The authorities have not taken adequate steps to discourage attacks against the station.
Vesna Bojicic, a journalist in Kosovo for the Serbian service of Voice of America, was physically attacked at her home in October, told her son would be kidnapped and herself killed if she did not stop her “pro-Albanian” reporting.
Journalists in Macedonia and Slovenia sometimes took joint action to protect themselves against this violence and threats to their independence.
In Macedonia, they boycotted a government press conference on 27 September in protest against physical attacks on two colleagues. TV reporter Lirim Dullovi had been hit two days earlier by a Albanian party security official during a session of parliament. Cameraman Igor Ljubovcevski, of the privately-owned TV station Alsat, was hospitalised the next day with two broken ribs after police beat him up when he refused to hand over film. The government’s attitude to the media was condemned in June when a court in Skopje, in a landmark decision, ordered damages to be paid to 17 journalists whose phones had been tapped in 2001.
More than 500 journalists (a fifth of the total) in Slovenia presented a petition to the government at the end of the year accusing it of trying to censor the media a few weeks before the country assumed the presidency of the European Union. Their argument was borne out when one of the first signers of the petition, Sandi Frelih, chief editor of the state-owned radio station and presenter of a political programme, was demoted.
ICTY a threat to journalists?
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) took legal action against journalists in 2007, creating a worrying precedent. The ICTY prosecutor opened an enquiry on 1 June that could lead to prosecution of several Croatian media outlets for revealing the contents of a secret ICTY document. This was an appendix to the charges against three Croatian ex-generals (Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac) accused of war crimes against Serb civilians during the 1991-95 Serbia-Croatia war, and named seven top Croatian officials as being involved in their crimes.
It was reported on 28 May by the Croatian TV station HRT and picked up by the newspapers Jutarnji list, Vecernji list and the Hina news agency. The document was then declassified but this did not end the legal action and on 7 November the ICTY accused eight Croatian journalists of “contempt of court.” Until now, the only legal action by such international tribunals against journalists has been for disclosing the names of protected witnesses.