THU, 09 JAN 1997 22:35:00 GMTc:\tekst\jan\jan9.eng
Montenegrin Government Withdrawing Channel from Antena M
AIM Podgorica, 2 January, 1997
Among numerous seasons' greetings which arrived to the address of "Antena M" there was one whose message was not one with the usual good wishes for successful work and good health. Instead of the sender's signature there was a stamp which read: Government of the Republic of Montenegro, Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining. The contents of this "greeting card" could be guessed in advance: the competent governmental authority informed the only independent electronic media in Montenegro that "due to technical reasons" it could not permit the expansion of audibility of Antena M outside Podgorica region. Bar and Niksic had no available channels, writes Minister Gomilanovic.
But, that was not all. The Djukanovic's protege by the way also informed the radio that it could no longer use the channel 87,6 for the region of Podgorica. Since there will soon be a public competition for the allocation of channels, "Antena M" will have a chance to "equitably with other participants" and "under equal conditions" compete for the allocation of a channel in Podgorica - concludes the Minister. In other words, things are as follows: the Government of Montenegro thinks that after the expiry of its provisional licence (December 15), Antena M does not exit and that as such, i.e. nonexistent, it cannot get channels for Bar and Niksic, nor have any right to channel 87,6 for Podgorica, which it has been using for two years now.
"All in all, after unprovoked fire on our transmitter on the day of the elections and jamming of signals at the time of important information programmes, such move was both expected and surprising. It was expected as we know that media freedoms are not easily won on the territory where journalism represents primarily a party task and editorial offices function as party cells. On the other hand, we are surprised because in our modesty we were convinced that we were not worthy and influential critics of holders of absolute power which was won at "hyper-democratic" elections, says Veselin Tomovic, editor-in-chief of Antena M.
What is also interesting in the reply of Djukanovic's Minister is referral of Antena M to the Federal Ministry of Transport and Communications which is in charge of this field, with the obvious intention to shift the responsibility to the Federation so that in some new confession at the international scene President Bulatovic could picture himself as a "principled" advocate of "free and independent media" and "an unwilling accomplice" in the media darkness which is created exclusively in Belgrade (excerpts from an interview to the "FIGARO").
The mentioned reply of the Government of Montenegro has confirmed the threats that B. Jaredic, Secretary of Information sent immediately after the elections to this radio telling them " that they will not last much longer", which only proves that this decision was not a consequence of an invention or arbitrariness on the part of a minister, but conscious and planned measure with which the authorities are prohibiting a free word.
As far as the competition under "equal conditions" is concerned what kind of farce is in question was best demonstrated at the previous tender at which Predrag Bulatovic, President of the Commission (also President of the DPS delegate club and Chairman of the Television Managing Board) gave almost all radio and TV frequencies to BK Telekom, a media house of para-state Serbian firm "Braca Karic" (Brothers Karic). It is indicative that these channels have never been used, which revealed a scam carried out under the guise of an "equitable" competition - "The procedure was formally carried out and an alibi before Western governments secured, while the true monopoly over frequencies was retained" emphasizes Miodrag Perovic, Director of "Montenegropublic", founder of "Antena M" and concludes: "The explanation of the Government that there are no technical conditions for the allocation of channels for Bar and Niksic is unfounded. How much such an explanation can be believed is best proven by the fact that there were no technical interferences in case of para-state Radio "Elmag" so that now this station is covering almost the entire Montenegro.
This is the second attempt of the Podgorica regime to stifle the independent radio "Antena M". The first was just before it started working, after it had obtained a licence from the then government of Milan Panic, when the local socialists did everything that was in their power to prevent the start of programme. After Panic's fall, Montenegrin Government opened a tender for channel 59 although it was already registered in Geneva as the property of "Montenegropublic", and after that allocated it in the mentioned manner to the media house "Brothers Karic". The dispute ended up in court which, after a marathon procedure, ruled in favour of the independent Radio. Naturally, this was reason enough for the DPS to consolidate its ranks and during court procedure with "Antena M" they started a radio after their own taste ("Elmag") again under the firm "the first private radio", as well as the first TV station ("Palma"), which President Bulatovic treated as an independent and his favourite station".
"Both these and numerous other evidence show the true relation of the local authorities towards the independent media. For example, the mentioned statement of DPS President Bulatovic given to the "Figaro" on his principled commitment to free and independent media his own bulletin the "Pobjeda" totally omitted in the same issue in which it published Bulatovic's denial of the information carried by "Beta" because of "prejudiced" presentation of parts of his interview.
"Obviously it does not suit the DPS leaders for democratic standards which they advocate all over the world, even in their immediate surrounding, to be applied in the territory under their rule" - comments Tomovic, editor of Antena M, and goes on: "In order to improve their image before the international factors, the Bulatovic's men have allegedly liberalized the allocation of frequencies so that, in contrast to the dictator Milosevic who holds a sacrosanct monopoly, they offer them to all interested parties "under equal conditions". To add insult to injury, even if you happen to overcome those "equal conditions", there is a monthly financial fine of 3 to 10 thousand DM, which, naturally, only " creative businessmen of Prime Minister Djukanovic" can afford."
On the decision of Montenegrin Government Antena M has already informed all national and international fora which are active in protecting the media and universal human freedoms and rights, as well as diplomatic representatives of Western countries in Belgrade. The independent Radio B92 which recently had similar problems with the DPS coalition partner from Belgrade, offered Antena M its channel through which it could broadcast its programme.
By its decision not to permit the expansion of Antena M outside Podgorica and by denying it the channel for the capital, the Government of Montenegro has practically declared war to independent media in this region. With its attempt to sink those few islands of independent and free thought, the ruling party has shown its true, malevolent nature. Like its Belgrade patron, the DPS top wants to be paid for its petty concessions to international factors by major interventions in the information of its own environment. Unfortunately, the overall climate in Montenegro, which it has so skillfully created, is rather favourable for that. The protests of Popular Unity have shown that Podgorica does not have the critical masses as Belgrade and Zagreb do which are necessary to undermine, if not warn the authorities that their despotism has its limits. Deeply moving was the recently presented story of a listener of Antena M who tied to a wheel-chair was unable to come to protest gatherings of Podgorica denizens because there was no one to push him to the location. "Do not go there, you know that they are filming everything", refused his plea for help the frightened people from his neighbourhood. It is therefore a question whether Podgorica has strength to defend its radio. The conclusion whether it is worth living here also depends on the answer to that same question.