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<nettime> Interview with Veran Matic (B92, Belgrade) in Glas javnosti, 10.12.2001

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sent: Monday, December 10, 2001 11:34 PM
subject: Interview with Veran Matic in Glas javnosti, 10.12.2001.

Glas javnosti, December 10, 2001
Interview with Veran Matic, Editor in Chief of B92 & ANEM Chairman
Tatjana Canak

1. ANEM legal advisors and You personally had more objections to the
situation in the media field, which has remained chaotic for the past year
despite pledges to regulate it, than to the final draft of the Public
Broadcasting Act. What were Your suggestions and proposals to improve the
situation in the electronic media inherited from the former regime?

Our proposal immediately after October 5 was to grant temporary frequency
licences so as to redress injustices done by the Milosevic regime to the
independent broadcasters, and thus, create a favourable climate for drafting
this extremely complex piece of legislation which particularly today, in the
age of technological expansion, is supposed to define media and technology
development strategy, i.e., cover a much wider field. We had been aware that
catastrophic mistakes could have been made had the law been hastily drafted
and rushed through the parliament. I think that the Telecommunications
Ministry opted for the worst possible solution - a moratorium on frequency
allocation was introduced, even though old injustices had not been
previously rectified, thus freezing the inherited state of affairs in the
electronic media. Apparently, in terms of legal framework for broadcasters'
operations, October 5 did not actually take place for independent electronic
media. Some may say that I exaggerate, but the truth is that B92 had been
banned immediately before October 5, but despite the ban, a larger territory
was covered by our signal than today. At the time, we broadcast our
programming in every possible way on a number of frequencies and channels
from neighbouring countries and from within our own country in order to
contribute as much as possible to the long-awaited changes despite extremely
dangerous situation we found ourselves in. To illustrate the point, let just
remind ourselves of the incident when our transmitters were mined and blown
up in eastern Bosnia. We were changing frequencies which were being jammed
persistently, including the satellite ones, by those persons who are, for
example, still at the head of the Yugoslav Army. Also, I have not seen those
people from the police, who had participated in enforcing repressive
measures against the media, being dismissed from their posts. A couple of
nights ago a female viewer asked during a phone-in program how come that she
could listen to ANEM programs before October 5, but not today anymore. This
explains it all.

2. Did you expect that some would be punished, or if not actually punished,
at least had their further development checked (frequency licences revoked,

The least the authorities could have done was to set up an expert commission
which would determine how frequency licences and TV channels had been
allocated since at issue here are precious national resources. The
government should have made a report on the inherited situation in the
media, initiated criminal proceedings against those responsible as well as
revoked unfair and illegal decisions which had been the basis for
establishing monopolies and development of those broadcasters which had
ingratiated themselves with the powerful figures from the former regime.
Only then, the government should have drafted a strategy of the media sphere
development for the next few years and initiated a process of preparing the
legislation which would comprehensively regulate the entire media field.
Never has a thought of taking revenge on anyone occurred to us. Quite often
the people tell us: "You are yourselves to blame since you did not enter TV
Pink with a bulldozer. You wouldn't have had any problems today." We have
never wanted something like that. What we wanted was an opportunity for B92
to develop as all other media did, and to help democratisation and reforms
in such a manner as authentic advocates of democracy. We wanted to help
preserve this precious asset - this large number of independent media in a
post-communist country. This was an advantage of Serbia in comparison to
some other countries because no one had such a large number of independent
media at the beginning of the transition process.
I did not expect absolute justice, but neither did I expect that a
civil-society-oriented minister and antiwar activist would say to me: "Why
do you bear a grudge against Pink when it's ours now?" I did not expect that
another minister would advise me to erect transmitters going on to say that
he would stop the police when they come after us. I did not expect that some
people in power would try to persuade us to make a deal with some of those
media moguls which would let us have two or three of their channels and a
studio in exchange for keeping our mouths shut. I did not expect that
someone would attempt to ban TV Pirot for the third time, now that democracy
reigns, and I did not expect that only we, the independent media, would
observe the moratorium despite its being unfair and unjust to us. We wanted
to respect the rules because this was the only way towards the establishing
of a rule of law, but what about those broadcasters who had acquired
privileges earlier under the former regime. What I least expected was that
the authorities would so easily renounce authentic democratic potential of
the independent media which could enormously contribute to reaching a
consensus on necessary reforms and changes. Thus, those currently in power
may not live up to the citizens' expectations raised by those crucial
pledges of the new authorities that they would work to the benefit of the
common people.

3. Could you explain by specifically drawing a parallel between TV Pink and
TV B92 what was happening to the electronic media for the past year? What
are the advantages of the former regime media over TV B92, ahead of the
upcoming public competition for frequency allocation?

When drawing such a parallel one usually comes to a conclusion that TV Pink
and TV B92 are in conflict with each other. This is not true. B92 criticises
the government's policy towards the media, the practice of granting
privileges to some broadcasters and discriminating other electronic media.
At the moment, B92 has only one channel for broadcasting its programming and
a contract on business and technical co-operation with Genex allowing TV B92
to use their two TV channels. The contract will have expired by March next
year and it may not be renewed. This practically means that TV B92 area of
coverage would be drastically reduced as B92 now covers only 89 percent of
Belgrade area and 40 percent of the Serbian northern province of Vojvodina.
TV Pink, however, covers about 90 percent of the whole of Serbia. During the
past year, 60 percent of the advertisers' money went to TV Pink. The same is
bound to happen in the next year as we will surely lose another year until
the new media laws come into effect. At the same time, B92 cannot possibly
count on even 1 percent of the total sum spent for advertising on the media
market because of its small area of coverage. Therefore, the issue is not
only the development of B92 but whether it could survive on the media scene.
Then, it may happen that the amount of some broadcaster's capital become a
criterion for assessment whether it could be granted national coverage or
not. If this were the case, obviously, TV B92 would not stand a chance. The
government keeps saying that Pink should be granted a licence for national
coverage while B92 is supposed to receive a medal, but not frequency
We have neither asked for nor expected to receive a medal given that even
Legija, a commander of a special police unit, is given credit for having
contributed to the Milosevic ousting from power, while the role of authentic
democratic forces is being minimised. But it has never occurred to us that
we would be prevented from competing on an equal footing with the former
Milosevic's media. At issue is not only B92.
Recently one politician asked me the following question: "Why should not TV
5 from Nis, the second largest Serbian city, be granted a licence for
national coverage, or at least, more extensive coverage in Serbia?" I
replied that this question was for him to answer, not me. The authorities
should explain, for example, why TV Palma has much larger area of coverage
for more than a year by now, and I presume that nothing will change for
another year, than TV 5, a broadcaster which has enormously contributed to
bringing about democratic changes? Why do so many broadcasters, which helped
strengthen local democratic authorities, at the time when there were no
independent electronic media in Belgrade, when they were banned by the
former regime, still have to broadcast their programs from inadequate
premises, basements and garages, fearing that they would not be granted a
frequency licence or TV channel because of their failure to meet technical
There are 40 TV stations in ANEM, and only 11 of them have valid
broadcasting licences. TV Pink has more channels than the whole of the
Association of Electronic Independent Media, ANEM. We have 64 radio
broadcasters - member stations of ANEM, but only 31 have valid broadcasting
licences. Such a discrimination introduced by the Milosevic regime still
persists, a year after the political changes, and it is quite certain that
such a situation will remain unchanged for at least another year. In Novi
Sad, TV Most, a broadcaster owned by the Socialist People's Party, SPS, is
still operating from the Radio Television Serbia, RTS, premises. At the same
time, Radio 021 endeavours to develop a multiethnic radio in keeping with
European standards, despite the fact that it has no broadcasting licence.
The current state of affairs is insane - on the one hand, we have those
broadcasters who would like to see the Public Broadcasting Act adopted as
soon as possible: ANEM with over a hundred of its TV and radio stations,
Association of Private Electronic Media Spektar with more than 70 stations,
RTS with its channels (without transformation into a public service
broadcaster, the state radio and TV is bound to fall into ruin), while, on
the other hand, you have several broadcasters who have become very close to
the new authorities.

4. Do you think that an unusually long period of more than a year was
necessary to draft Public Broadcasting Act? Do you actually believe that
political games are stalling the process of regulating the media field which
has an extremely important political impact?

Even if this piece of legislation is now adopted in the parliament, it will
take about a year for it to come into full effect, and I am sure that
various forms of obstructions are bound to emerge in the process. The
problem is that there are no indications of the government's willingness to
resolve these problems. You can have the best legislation in the world, but
if there is no willingness to apply that law, the state in which a rule of
law is still to be established may find dozens of ways to avoid the
application of such a legislation. In my view, the government has a problem
with all those areas defined as independent or non-governmental. There is a
similar animosity towards the independent media and NGOs which also face
enormous problems in relation to legal framework for their activities.
Certainly, there are other pressing problems so that many do not consider
these laws as a priority. But it is also quite clear that there is a gross
lack of understanding of the situation in which the independent media and
the state broadcaster, RTS, find themselves in. Namely, according to the
final draft of the Public Broadcasting Act, RTS is supposed to be
transformed into a public service broadcaster. Thus, the government would be
deprived of its possibility to influence the work of the state broadcaster.
I think that there is no a genuine wish for RTS to become a public service
broadcaster, i.e., that the intention is to prolong the agony of the biggest
broadcaster and weaken it as much as possible until the broadcasters like
Pink take over the former role of RTS as a government's mouthpiece. RTS as a
public service broadcaster is a priority in the media field because it
possesses an enormous potential for educating and re-educating the citizens,
for democratisation, promotion of reforms. It is quite clear that each party
involved would like to grab as much media power for its itself as possible
by stirring up confusion on the political scene. This certainly would not
contribute to the development of objective, unbiased and autonomous media.

5. Would you subscribe to the view that those broadcasters which had come
into existence and amassed fortunes during the Milosevic era have by now
even further strengthened their positions? Are there any concrete and
evident confirmations of such a claim?

I have already said something about it. If you have a natural tendency
towards servility with respect to those in power, then you are bound to be
subservient, especially if the regime stimulates such a servile attitude.
Therefore, those obsequious people thrive under such regimes. It does not
matter who their masters are and whether their master caused disaster and
catastrophe affecting the citizens of several states, whether he was robbing
his people, committing acts of violence against his own people or whether
such a person presents himself as a democrat. It is interesting that no one
has so far audited the TV Pink contracts with RTS during the Milosevic
regime. Has someone halted the auditing process of these contracts?
Recently, the people from RTS told us that TV Kosava was broadcasting the
program using the RTS equipment, including, most probably, a transmitter and
a channel belonging to the state broadcaster. I have not seen a single
official document on this issue. Your newspaper wrote at great length about
criminal acts being committed while establishing this TV broadcaster.
Despite this, apparently, it occurred to no one to investigate the whole
matter and reveal to the public how the former owner, Marija Milosevic,
daughter of the Yugoslav ex-president, could be paid off for selling this

6. Milosevic was in the habit of decorating those who supported him. Did you
expect at least some confirmation of your long-lasting struggle against him,
or perhaps, you are not at all surprised by the Prime Minister's cynical
statement about a medal to B92 for past merits?

On returning to our own premises, our own company, after several-month-long
ban and broadcasts from neighbouring countries, we found debts incurred by
the regime's people headed by Aleksandar Nikacevic who had taken over B92
from us. The debts amounted to over 200,000 DEM. Despite this, we
endeavoured to pay the debts to social security funds for all the B92
employees as if we had never been banned. We could not even get a discount
or allowances for this process, let alone consider a possibility of these
debts being written off in recognition of the sacrifices made by those who
had refused to cooperate with the Milosevic's regime and instead supported
the process of strengthening the democratic forces. When I realised that we
will have to pay our debts incurred by Milosevic's henchmen, it was quite
clear to me that we will have to continue to pay the price of being
independent and of our insistence on professionalism. Unfortunately, quite
often, even the bravery of those who had given their lives for democracy in
the struggle against the Milosevic's regime has not been recognised. My
greatest satisfaction, however, would be if I saw the rule of law and
justice taking root in our country as well as the process of redressing
injustices which would satisfy those who had been deprived of their rights
under former regime. The greatest recognition for me is the fact that there
is no revolt on B92 programme on account of our precarious and difficult
position. Even under these most difficult circumstances, we have managed to
preserve objectivity and professionalism in our work.

7. At a gathering of the professionals from the electronic media, Zeljko
Mitrovic, director of TV Pink, told Bojana Lekic when she was still a member
of TV B92 team: "We are the same kind, let's make a deal." And she retorted:
"We are not the same kind because if it had been so, none of this would have

Do you think that the citizen Z.M. succeeded in persuading anyone that his
perverse statement holds water? I think one gains the impression that the
gentleman in question has fitted more easily into the new system. Is it not
an ancient and banal story about minding one's own business? I believe that
your concrete and precise question implies an equally concrete and precise
answer. I would only go on to say that our profession cannot put up with
fitting into any system or establishment. It must be always critical of the
new system, of the new order. The reason for the position the independent
journalism finds itself in today lies precisely in this critical stance of a
journalist which is a prerequisite for any progress.

8. Where does, in your view, lie a solution for improving the position of
the independent electronic media before the Public Broadcasting Act comes
into effect?

To resolve this pressing problem, all those media, whose applications for
frequencies had been flatly rejected in Milosevic's public competitions
despite complete necessary documentation they had submitted, should be
granted temporary broadcasting licences as well as a temporary licence for
extending the B92 area of coverage in Serbia which should be valid until the
announcement of the results of the next public competition for frequency

Tatjana Canak

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