TUE, 25 DEC 2001 12:01:38 GMT
Editor of "The Day" Sentenced
Handcuffs Instead of Laurels
Prison sentence pronounced to Vladislav Asanin started numerous
reactions and discussions within Montenegro, but also raised a question
of the position of journalists in Montenegro.
AIM Podgorica, December 16, 2001
Vladislav Asanin, former editor-in-chief of the daily "Dan" (The Day)
has been sentenced to three months in prison for slander. Asanin was
convicted in a civil claim filed by Montenegrin President Milo
Djukanovic for publishing texts from the Zagreb weekly "Nacional" about
Since Asanin already had one suspended sentence for slander (passed in
a civil suit of Stanko Subotic), the court in Podgorica sentenced him to
three months in prison. This would be the first time in Montenegro that
a journalist would end up behind bars. That was why this verdict did not
leave anyone in Montenegro indifferent. Some disputed it, others
justified it, whereas still others considered it to harsh or inadequate
not denying Asanin's responsibility.
"Imprisoning and convicting of journalists is impermissible. I am
against this sentence, as well as against slander as a part of Criminal
Law", commented Borislav Banovic, former Montenegrin Assistant Secretary
of Information and official of the Social-Democratic Party.
Numerous domestic and foreign non-governmental organisations, as well
as journalists, including those who have been criticising "The Day" for
unprofessional editorial policy for a very long time, have raised their
voice against Asanin's prison sentence.
Such stands have opened many other questions. Has everyone risen to
defend Asanin as a professional journalist, acquitting him of
responsibility that he has been accused of? Or, perhaps, this criticism
has been partly addressed to the existing Montenegrin law which
envisages from three months to three years of prison for slander?
"I believed that Montenegrin judiciary would not sentence Vladimir
Asanin to prison for slander in the media, although there is a legal
procedure for that. For some time now, journalists and non-governmental
organisations in Montenegro have been fighting against imprisoning
journalists because of their writing and publishing, demanding the
replacement of that sentence by a fine, as is the case in other European
countries", said President of the Association of Professional
Journalists of Montenegro Danilo Burzan. Burzan thought that the court
should not be blamed for acting according to a valid Montenegrin law,
although as he said, he was in favour of eliminating all remnants of the
old practice from the Criminal Code.
Apart from those who consistently advocated the principle that
journalists should not be threatened with a possibility of being put
behind bars for using "strong language", there was an increasing number
of those who saw Asanin's penalty as an opportunity to score a political
point or two. "I read what politicians have been saying and do not doubt
their good intentions, but for them it is still just an opportunity at
securing political points for themselves", observed Asanin.
"This is yet another blow to the freedom of public expression and
publicity in Montenegro, delivered by none else but Milo Djukanovic in a
way that doesn't exist even in the most rigid communist systems",
commented a SNP official, Vuksan Simonovic. However, Simonovic and all
those like-minded have forgotten the fact that Asanin was just the last
of a number of Montenegrin journalists who stood accused for a crime of
slander. Already in early nineties journalists of "Monitor" Mihailo
Radojicic, Seki Radoncic and Ceseljko Koprivica had been tried and got
It is also without doubt that things have somewhat changed today. At
the time of war frenzy, convictions of independent journalists were
followed in silence. Today, victims of that regime (to which Asanin also
once belonged) raised their voice against Asanin's conviction. Namely,
Vladimir Asanin had been editor-in-chief of Radio&Television of
Montenegro at the time when unified DPS was in coalition with Milosevic.
Asanin did not hide this: "I do not deny that; times were different. If
I have changed from a journalist who belonged to a political party into
a journalist working for an independent paper, that means that criticism
was effective." Indeed, his "The Day" did not rise in defence of
journalistic profession when Montenegrin journalists were persecuted or
when Slavko Curuvija was killed, owner of "The Daily Telegraph" (Dnevni
Telegraf). Ironically, now that same weapon that his protégés had been
using against others for years, has turned against him.
That is why sentence pronounced to Asanin started disputes in the
divided Montenegro. "That has nothing to do with either the court or
justice", said President of the Association of Journalists of Yugoslavia
Budo Simonovic assessing the process against Asanin as "open political
trial which was meant to please Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic".
There were those who reacted to Simonovic's reaction. "Simonovic's
association, which mostly rallied correspondents of Belgrade papers,
never spoke in defence of the profession, but only of those belonging to
that political option", recalled Danilo Burzan.
Burzan was not the only one to observe this Simonovic's "principle". A
well-known journalist Miodrag Marovic also wrote about it in his book
"Stumblings of the Old Lady". "Under new circumstances Simonovic has
been given a new role of connecting the phantom organisation Association
of Journalists of Yugoslavia (ASY), he is the President of, with leaders
from Dedinje. He does that by loudly reacting to every open attack on
"patriotic journalists" in Montenegro and wisely keeping silent when
professional and independent journalists are being persecuted in Serbia.
And all that under the scandalous Law on the Media which Budo Simonovic,
as President of the AJY, supported by keeping silent instead of
defending the journalistic profession", wrote Marovic.
Simonovic and all those like-minded, were not heard even during NATO
intervention when the Army arrested journalist Antun Masle and brought
in foreign correspondents, confiscating their journalistic equipment,
nor when Milosevic's papers labelled them spies in "The Day".
That is exactly why it would be frivolous to forget scenes from more
recent Montenegrin history and observe Asanin's conviction as an
original social phenomenon. We have already seen similar things.
However, there is nothing that power-holders today can use as an excuse
for settling scores with journalists through institutions which have
been burying free thought in Montenegro for years.
Provision of the Montenegrin Criminal Law on slander are nothing new.
They were used for years as a convenient toy by those who have just now
realised that there are two ends to a stick. The point is not who will
get it first at a given moment. Perhaps Vladislav Asanin's trial might
serve as a cause for permanently eliminating this practice from
Montenegrin public stage as a means for scaring journalists.