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Serbia22 July 2003

Call for reelection of broadcasting Council

Reporters Without Borders today called on the reelection of the country’s new broadcasting Council after the Serb parliament voted on 15 July to uphold the choice of three of the council’s members whose nomination was marred by irregularities.

The organisation also deplored the fact that, after being confirmed by parliament, two of the three disputed Council members, including its chairman, launched virulent personal attacks against a leading journalist who had said their election violated the broadcasting law adopted last year.

"The creation of the broadcasting Council is a major step for press freedom after the end of the Milosevic regime and it is essential that its legitimacy and independence cannot be questioned," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to parliamentary president Natasa Micic.

"The only way to restore such credibility to the Council would be to rehold the election of its members while complying with procedures in the strictest fashion," Ménard urged. He added that personal attacks on journalists were inappropriate and "incompatible with the council’s duty to be impartial."

The broadcasting council, which began functioning on 4 June, was created by a law passed on 18 July 2002 that was the first dealing with the news media since the start of democratisation. One of the Council’s chief duties is to ensure that broadcast frequencies are assigned in a regular and impartial manner. News media that were denied permission to operate under the previous regime are still without a licence while those associated with former Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, still preserve their privileges.

The Council has nine members, four of whom are chosen by the parliaments of Serbia and Vojvodina, two by the universities and churches, and two by NGOs and professional associations. The ninth member, who represents Kosovo, is chosen by the other eight members.

The Council’s first eight members were elected on 11 April, during the state of emergency decreed after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djinjic, and the ninth was elected on 24 April. Three of the nominations did not follow the rules and procedures established in the broadcasting law.

For transparency’s sake, the law establishes that candidates’ names and biographies must be published at least 30 days before they are elected to the council. But Nenad Cekic’s nomination by the Serb parliament was not announced until three days before the election while that of Vladimir Cvetkovic, also by the Serb parliament, was not announced until the day of the election itself. Cekic is now the Council’s chairman.

At the same time, Kosovo’s representative, Goran Radenovic, does not meet a key requirement for this post, namely that he should live and work in Kosovo. Snjezana Milivojevic, the representative of the professional associations on the Council, and Vladimir Vodinelic, the NGO representative, resigned from the Council in protest at these irregularities.

Immediately after the Serb parliament supported the three disputed Council members in a vote on 15 July, two of them, Cekic and Cvetkovic, issued a press release accusing Veran Matic, the president of the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) and editor in chief of Radio B92, of waging a "witch-hunt" against them. They also called for an investigation into all of Radio B92’s financial and legal operations since 2000. Anonymous complaints had been lodged against Radio B92’s executives accusing them of irregularities at the time of the station’s privatisation. The charges were declared to be unfounded by the privatisation agency.

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