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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yugoslav Media Fights On

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As Yugoslavia changes from an authoritarian to a more democratic nation in the wake of the October overthrow of former President Slobodan Milosevic, at least one media watchdog group sees continuing signs of repression, while local journalists are talking about changing the state broadcasting system to a public broadcasting service.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists this week wrote to new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica to say CPJ was "heartened by the improved press freedom climate in the republic of Serbia." However, the letter went on to note "several recent cases of independent journalists who were subjected to official harassment because of their work."

CPJ cited several cases to warrant its complaint. The first involved three plainclothes police officers who went to the offices of the Belgrade daily Nedeljni Telegraf on Nov. 1, detaining assistant editor Milos Antic without a warrant, taking him to a police station and interrogating him for two hours. They wanted him to identify the sources for an Oct. 25 article about Milosevic.

The authorities wanted the information in order to prepare a case against Milosevic, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which contends that "the manner in which Antic was detained seemed designed to intimidate the journalist and his colleagues, considering that the Serbian Interior Ministry remains stacked with Milosevic loyalists."

"It is also disturbing that the authorities pressured Antic to reveal his sources for the article," CPJ wrote, "since the ability of journalists to protect sources is essential to their work and is generally protected by law."

CPJ was also "concerned that Milosevic-era laws are still being used to intimidate journalists in Serbia," noting that on Nov. 9 officials from the Vranje Lumber Co. filed misdemeanor charges against Vranjske Novine "under Serbia?s draconian Public Information Law," adding that "while the charges were dismissed on Nov. 10, the Public Information Law remains on the books, allowing the Serbian government to summarily fine and ban media outlets."

The media watchdog group asks the president to "encourage the new Serbian government and parliament to repeal the Public Information Law" after the Dec. 23 elections.

Finally, CPJ said that despite the recent release of Miroslav Filipovic, it would continue to monitor the journalist?s case because his seven-year prison sentence was overturned on grounds of "procedural abuses during the investigation."

"We are heartened that he has been released," CPJ said, but expressed concern that a retrial of the case based on the original charges of "espionage" and "spreading false information" is pending. CPJ urged that the trial "be conducted in an open and transparent manner," and expressed its belief that Filipovic would be fully vindicated.

Earlier this month, the Association of Independent Electronic Media, or ANEM, in Yugoslavia issued a statement saying that it is "concerned about the possible dangerous consequences of appointing senior state and party officials to the boards of management of media companies." According to the statement, ANEM calls on "representatives of the new authorities not to accept such appointments."

The ANEM position is based on a story this week in the daily newspaper Politika, which reported that its own publishing company had appointed a new general director and management and supervisory boards, including the federal communications minister, to its board of management.

"It is widely known that all companies close to the former regime sought to appoint influential officials from the ruling party and the state to their boards of management, confident that this would guarantee certain privileges," ANEM stated. The organization declared that "there is no need for this practice in a democratic Serbia and Yugoslavia."

"In ANEM?s opinion, this is particularly dangerous for media companies," the ANEM statement contended. "The appointment of serving state and party officials to media company management bodies could have such serious consequences as tacit censorship."

The Freedom Forum is a U.S.-based nonpartisan foundation dedicated to freedom of the press and freedom of speech for all people.