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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    TUE, 20 FEB 1996 09:27:58 GMT

    The latest strike at independent media in Serbia


    AIM Belgrade, February 16, 1996

    On Thursday, when during broadcasting of the statement of Milorad Roganovic, the discharged director, program of Independent Television Studio B was interrupted, it became clear that that which everyone has been expecting for months has happened. The best known independent television station has become property of the state. Despite remonstrance not only of the employees of Studio B, but also of all indepenednt organizations and institutions, as well as the entire opposition in Serbia, the Supreme Court of Serbia (whose operation is controlled by the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia) reached a decision by which all foundation rights were transferred to the Assembly of Belgrade dominated by a majority of Socialists. Referring to the document of the Supreme Court, the District Economic Court in Belgrade deleted Studio B from the court register, returning the status of this house to the one it had back in 1972 - that of a public enterprise.

    Following the recipe applied not long ago in the case of the independent daily "Nasa Borba", as well as a series of local media, with this, according to the general opinion, political decision, control was established over the program and information disseminated by the first independent Belgrade tv station. The fact that the first President of the Management Board will be the Secretary of the Assembly of Belgrade, socialist Ljubisa Milic, and that the other members of this board are also mostly officials of the city of Belgrade speak in favour of this opinion.

    While the former Director of Studio B, Milorad Roganovic, immediately after this decision had been made public, declared that he had been caught unprepared by it, Mayor of Belgrade, a highly esteemed Socialist, Nebojsa Covic, refused to make any comments. Nevertheless, in a statement given to journalists in the Assembly of Belgrade, Covic quite clearly indicated the future "cultural and sports orientation" of this television station.

    "This is the end", Dragan Kojadinovic, until recently president of the Management Board of Studio B said and added, "the only consolation is that those who wish to provide the exitential minimum for themselves by working in Studio B, will be able to do so."

    In the course of Friday morning, while several hundred citizens and representatives of all leading opposition parties were protesting in front of the building of Television Studio B, the newly appointed Editor-in-Chief, Dragisa Kovacevic, handed out dismissals to all journalists, and there are about 20 of them, who refused either in writing or verbally, loyalty to the new leadership of the station. It is interesting that among the discharged employees are mostly program creators. United in the assessment of the document which made their station state-owned, a delegation of "rebellious" journalists talked to the Mayor of Belgrade and handed him demands for modification of the decision of the Supreme Court. Covic promised that it would all be considered at one of the future sessions of the city Assembly.

    Abolition of independence of Studio B in a certain sense "united" stances of the leading opposition parties. At a joint press conference, in front of a large number of domestic and foreign journalists, representatives of the Serb Revival Movement, the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, the Civic Alliance and the National Party of Montenegro assessed that the destiny of Studio B was closely connected with the destiny of the opposition and announced future activities "in defence of freedom of the media". As it was stated, these parties have convened urgent sessions of their deputy clubs in all the assemblies, from the federal to the city assembly, and established a Board for Protection of Studio B. The possibility of organizing a protest rally was also mentioned. Vuk Draskovic, leader of the most powerful Serb opposition party, in his address to the journalists said that on Friday, letters were sent to all relevant representatives of international community demanding an answer to the question "whether agreements in Dayton and Paris gave Slobodan Milosevic freedom to do whatever he pleased in Serbia".

    According to the opinion of the head of the Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic, the reason for "strangling" Studio B lies in the fact that March 9 is approaching, the date when, although officially banned, a great rally of opposition parties is scheduled to take place. Djindjic also believes that the Socialists wish to completely limit the space for the media before the announced federal elections.

    It should be added that numerous international organizations offered support to Studio B, too. EU International Relations Commissar, Hans van Den Brook demanded "that measures be taken for preservation of independence of Studio B". The International Federation of Journalists, Reporters without Frontiers, the Editor-in-Chief of Polish daily "Gazeta Vibircza", Adam Mihnyik, also sharply reacted against the document on taking over of this station by the city authorities.

    It should, nevertheless, be said that Independent Television Studio B was in fact "abolished" at the moment - and that was two years ago - when due to misunderstandings with the former director Dragan Kojadinovic, the station was abandoned by its best journalists, about 40 of them. The only thing worth its while since then in the station was its independence. Shortly, the possibility of broadcasting news which were not "window-dressed" and all kinds of different political stances. Despite that, placing Studio B under patronage of the state is a move which will, broadly speaking in the context of the information space, have much farther-reaching consequences. It is a general opinion that, at this moment and before the federal elections and then those in the republic, the ruling party wishes to free itself of the risk of having circulation of information which it cannot control.

    (AIM) Danica Vucenic