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<nettime> Serbia: Government Seeks Media Monopoly
geert lovink on Tue, 8 Oct 2002 19:26:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Serbia: Government Seeks Media Monopoly

From: <mediawatch {AT} lists.opennet.org>


Serbian authorities block media reforms to keep down independent TV
station and prop up former Milosevic mouthpieces that now support them.

By Milanka Saponja Hadzic in Belgrade

Press groups close to Serbia's prime minister Zoran Djindjic have been
attacking the country's leading independent radio and television station
as part of a government drive to retain the virtual media monopoly it
inherited from the Milosevic regime.

The attacks began in mid-September, when the pro-government private
television stations BK and Pink used prime time news slots to accuse Radio
Television B92 bosses of privatising the company without the employees'
knowledge and to their disadvantage. Belgrade media last week received
unsigned letters allegedly written by anonymous B92 employees accusing
their bosses of abusing the company's privatisation process. BK and Pink,
the two largest private broadcasters in Serbia, which were once very close
to the Milosevic regime, quoted these accusations in their leading news
broadcasts. In the latest salvo against the station on October 4, hundreds
of posters appeared overnight in Belgrade with the picture of Matic and
the logo of B92. Underneath it was written "Caught Stealing".

B92 editor Veran Matic dismissed the claims, and IWPR has seen a copy of
the minutes of a station staff meeting, in which it's clear that most
employees agreed with the method of privatisation proposed by the
management. Matic charged the authorities with attempting to block B92's
from having national coverage. Under American pressure, the authorities
agreed two months ago to allocate the station temporary frequencies,
enabling its television arm to cover 55 per cent of Serbian territory.

Media analysts believe the government is fighting to retain as much of the
press monopoly it inherited from Milosevic as it can, with independent
media such as B92 seen threatening this goal. At home and abroad, the
station is widely regarded as a symbol of democracy and independence, and
was repeatedly closed and banned by theformer regime.

TV Pink and BK Television, owned by owned by Zeljko Mitrovic and Bogoljub
Karic respectively, meanwhile acted as mouthpieces for Milosevic, only to
switch sides as soon as he was ousted. The two stations are most important
to the Serbian authorities as they reach audiences well beyond Belgrade.
Between them, their broadcasts cover 90 per cent of Yugoslav territory,
netting huge profits from advertising.

The Serbian government, in an attempt to preserve its media monopoly, is
dragging its feet over implementing some press reforms, including TV
frequency regulations and a system of public inspection. Many believe the
former was only adopted because it was a precondition for Yugoslavia's
accession to the Council of Europe. As a consequence, the media that once
served Milosevic have kept their privileged positions and their national
frequencies, while the stations that fought hardest for democratic change
are deliberately confined to a limited viewing audience.

Matic said the situation was ironic, "The media that are an authentic part
of the democratic changes in this country and a symbol of independent
journalism are still being discriminated against because they don't have
radio and television frequencies." In a separate development, the new
authorities have done nothing to put a stop to a wave of legal cases
against reporters who fought against the wars of the 1990s, the politics
of hatred and are now campaigning for professional journalistic standards.
Some 300 such cases are currently going through the courts, with many of
the reporters being sued by the former regime's associates and members of
the ruling coalition. This month, for example, an official in Djindjic's
Democratic Party, Radoslav Ljubisavljevic, charged B92 with libel after
the station reported that he had been handed a two-year suspended sentence
in 1994 for forgery and abuse of power.

Ljubisavljevic did not dispute the report's facts, but sued B92 for
"mental anguish". "What really hurts Ljubisavljevic is the truth", the
Association of Independent Electronic Media commented.

Milka Saponja Hadzic is a freelance journalist in Serbia

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