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Serbia19 July 2002

New law makes public TV and radio independent

image 90 x 84 (JPEG) Reporters Without Borders today hailed the Serbian parliament’s approval of a bill turning the country’s public TV and radio network into an independent body and urged the government to implement the new law without delay.

"After such a long debate about it, this is urgent," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to federal information secretary Slobodan Orlic. "The new management of the state TV and radio, RTS, as well as the new body assigning broadcasting frequencies must be truly independent of the authorities."

"We are especially concerned that the distribution of frequencies does not undermine news diversity, which has blossomed in recent years with the opening of more broadcasting outlets in Serbia," he said. "We ask you to bear in mind the concerns of the Association of Independent Electronic Media about this and see that it is involved in decisions."

The law, passed on 17 July, is the first of a series of measures dealing with information that were the focus of broad public discussion last year. It comes nearly two years after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in October 2000. Since then, the two main obstacles to freedom of information - the status of RTS and freeze in assigning other frequencies - have remained.

The new law makes RTS a "public service" independent of the government and sets up an independent body to assign frequencies to new media, most of which currently broadcast without a licence.

Reporters Without Borders notes that RTS, along with the Tanjug news agency, the newspaper Borba, Radio Jugoslavia and the TV station Yu Info, were all controlled and funded by the government until October 2000. RTS, with debts of more than _20 million, ageing equipment and a bloated staff, was especially dependent on the government. Key posts in RTS were often filled by friends of the government or political parties.

The assignment of broadcasting frequencies to other privately-owned or local media was frozen last year. All the media refused a licence by the Milosevic regime still do not have one, while media that were close to the old regime, such as the TV networks TV Pink and TV BK, have started up new stations and are now stronger.

Reporters Without Borders also notes that the criminal code, with its especially harsh clauses about defamation, has still not been amended.

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