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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

    SUN, 23 JUN 1996 20:58:08 GMT

    Media in Serbia

    WAITING FOR THE ELECTIONS

    AIM Belgrade, June 18, 1996

    Seven critical texts, reactions, appeals, protests and three caricatures on his account was what the new Serb minister of information, the eccentric Aleksandar Tijanic, has counted in Nasa Borba. All this, as he himself said in a letter of protest sent to this Belgrade independent daily, was published in the period before he even sat down in his minister's arm-chair.

    The controversial Aleksandar Tijanic, who used to be replaced, punished, discharged (his last post - director of brother Karic's TV), can do nothing but be angry because of vehement reactions to his new role. It is not the fault of Nasa Borba that by having become close to Karic brothers, front-runners of the nouveaux riches of the modern Serbian times (friends of family Milosevic) he had agreed to disclaim publicly his independence. His inclination towards Yugoslav Rightists (JUL), the party of Dr Mirjana Markovic, is no secret among journalists for almost two years. That is when he was removed from the post of director of TV Politika, having lost a battle with hardcore faction of Milosevic's Socialists.

    Satisfaction that he has after all come out as the winner of the old quarrel within the ruling echelons (SPS-JUL) is spoiled only by the unrewarding moment the presidential couple in Serbia has chosen for sending him to battle. The journalist with no ideology, apart from the will for power, neither fascist nor communist, a columnist of former Yugoslavia in NIN, Danas, Sarajevo Oslobodjenje and Slobodna Dalmacija, has lived to see his obsession come true - secret initiation into decisions of centres of power. However, this is happening at the moment when elections are coming, and everything is boiling on the scene of of the media in Serbia. The first bills have already started to arrive, but the height of the final sum is still not in view.

    Welcome for the Minister

    As soon as Aleksandar Tijanic met the personnel in the Ministry and promised that there would be no pressures neither on the state-controlled nor on opposition media, the independent team of Radio Smederevo was replaced. The minicipality, alias local SPS authorities, appointed its own people and moved them into their premises. Tijanic claimed in vain that he had nothing to do with taking possession of Radio Smederevo, that it had all happened three days before his inauguration. Although he declared he was against methods demonstrated by the "state of Smederevo", he explained the affair with the already known recipe for stifling independent media - "reexamination of ownership transformation".

    Then, on June 6, republican market inspector banned work of the editoral staff of Novi Pancevac. The premises were sealed up because the journal was not "in possession of a valid permit for work", which marks a new mode of regime's pressure on media which are privately-owned and therefore cannot be included in "reexamination of transformation". Representatives of the opposition in Pancevo expressed surprise "that on the occasion of this latest forcible stifling... minister Aleksandar Tijanic has not reacted yet".

    On June 12 one could hear that the Management Board of BIGZ, a large publisher in Belgrade, had decided to stop printing Srpska rec, the journal of the Serbian Revival Movement (SPO), most influential opposition party in Serbia. Although the journal had paid for newsprint and printing for two issues in advance, cooperation was broken for "economic" reasons. The real reason, according to the words of the editor of the journal, Danica Draskovic, was a text on unlawful construction of a house for the President's son, Marko Milosevic, on someone else's plot in Pozarevac, and on the front page - a photograph (as we leant, a photomontage after all) on which Marko is leading a drunken calf. Due to another photograph shot recently at the opening ceremony of Milosevic's son's club, which was published by Vreme on its front page, local photographer Miroslav Milosevic was beaten up in front of his home.

    Danica Draskovic asked to be received by the new minister and the request was granted. She complained about BIGZ, and the distributors, and the next day she convened a press conference. "He told me - personally I wish Srpska rec would disappear. Srpska rec is nothing but sh... and it would be a good thing for Serbian journalism if that journal had not existed. Tijanic declared that he was personally interested for the journal to disappear, because it had discredited him too in many respects, but since Srpska rec had neither any value nor purpose, it will stop being published, not due to pressure, but because noone will want to read it", declared Danica Draskovic, wife of the leader of SPO. She also assessed that the new minister would suppress all independent media until the elections.

    Aleksandar Tijanic also reacted cynically in a letter to NIN, because the author of his portrait had not stuck to the agreement to write about him in his normal condition - and by no menas sober. He called the portrait made by this author a breathtest, and commented on the ignorance of the author about journalism and himself as - acquired by toilsome effort.

    He also quarrelled with Dnevni Telegraf, a privately owned newspaper which has made a miracle in this space in hardly a couple of months (circulation of about 50 thousand). According to what this newspaper wrote, Tijanic has announced huge problems for them.

    Therefore, a right man has been chosen for the forthcoming election duels - a man who fights without gloves.

    Surprises, surprises...

    The opposition coalition "Zajedno" (Together) - Serbian revival Movement, the Democratic Party and the Civic Alliance of Serbia - believes that Tijanic is the key man of the election campaign of the Socialists. That the temperature is high, although the elections have not even been scheduled yet, is proved by the discovery, or "discovery" made by the Serbian Revival Movement that Slobodan Milosevic had held a secret meeting with "the heads of the information sector and the police" in Dobanovci. On the occasion, as the spokesman of this party, Ivan Kovacevic, said, Tijanic was entrusted with the task to make special preelection programs and newspaper feuillteons against leaders of the coalition "Zajedno", and to supervise media which must be closed for them.

    Apart from nomination of the new minister, other surprises can be anticipated, too. One of them, although unconvincing, is prepared by the opposition. If their announcement should be believed, preparations are in progress for an operation of "liberation" of the media, but "it is still early to reveal everything" (as Vuk Draskovic says). The most urgent task is to "unblock factories of Serbian misfortune: state television, Politika, Vecernje novosti, Ekspres Politika, Radio Belgrade". Leader of Serbian Democrats Zoran Djindjic believes that the world will punish Yugoslavia, just like Croatia (it will not be received in the Council of Europe) if it persists with its policy towards the media, and Vesna Pesic bitterly accused Hans van den Broek who "was extremely sorry because of Radio Smederevo". Accusing the international factors for indifference, she said that "they are fully informed about the situation, so that it sounds almost comical when we have Television Serbia such as it is, and to have anyone lament over Radio Smederevo".

    Almost nobody believes in "liberation" any more. Especially after the regime finally took over Studio B, the only independent TV station. It happened without a whiff of resistance, and the trio "Zajedno" seem to be quite frivolously making plans with Studio B which is quite lost for them: the opposition leaders have reached an agreement how to organize it when they win! They have agreed even about the candidate for the director of this new independent television. His name, they say, will be a surprise in the election campaign.

    Another surprise was that Soros Foundation in Yugoslavia was registered again. It had been deleted from court register in March, according to all assessments because of its assistance to independent media. A few days ago it started operation again, this time with a new name: Open Society Fund. Sonja Liht who manages the Fund is promising new humanitarian, medical, cultural, educational programs, and programs for the - media. George Soros, the founder, says that he is concerned especially because of the independent media "some of which have been taken over by the authorities". He hopes that they will all be permitted to continue operation.

    Those who have been taken over by the authorities, however, do not share this hope, because the experience shows that once something has been taken over, it has never been returned. Those who could not have waited for the Fund to be re-registered and its financial support are also hopeless. Svetlana Zaric has invested all her life savings into a small but influential independent journal Zapisi in Cacak, a city in Serbia. Nowadays, she does not know how to publish the next issue, journalists are working without fees, the equipment consists of a single typewriter. Last month, unknown persons broke into her apartment and searched it, but did not take anything away. When she reported the "thieves", the police just shrugged its shoulders.

    Disobedient editor of Borske novine, Miroslav Radulovic, is still waiting for a decision of the Supreme Court of Serbia to see whether he will go to jail for six months, since his journal carried a caricature of Slobodan Milosevic from another journal. Vranjske novine are facing closing down, and financial police has appeared at the doorstep of Videlo from Nis. Saban Sarenkapic, editor of civic-society oriented journal Has from Sandzak, mostly populated by the Muslims, says that it will last only until the end of the year.

    The regime has done its best to return Soros to Serbia by the time spring cleaning of the media is almost over. The new minister will take care of covering a campaign or two, of another ban or two. All that with quibbles or swears - to entertain the benumbed citizens. Apart for excesses, he has also a sense of humour. Recently, he sent word to a cartoonist of Nasa Borba to draw him a little better, because, he said "I laugh at his drawings until they explain to me that it is me in the caricature."

    (AIM) Gordana Igric