Originator: ARTICLE 19 (A19)Date: 1998/10/14
Country: FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA
Belgrade free media to be sacrificed for Kosovo deal?(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - On 14 October 1998, ARTICLE 19 called for "an immediate, clear and determined response" by the international Contact Group to the latest crackdown on Serbia's independent media. Over the last three days, newspapers and broadcasters have forcibly been closed by the Serbian authorities, with equipment seized and threats of further action. Frances D'Souza, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, said:
"Serbia's fledgling independent media is key to establishing an environment conducive to a peaceful and long term solution to the Kosovo dilemma. However, the international community has allowed six months of harassment, culminating in the police raids on newspapers and broadcast stations.
"Western governments are rightly applauding the agreement over Kosovo brokered by US special envoy Richard Holbrooke and the international verification process that it will put in train, but even as they do so the Milosevic government is ensuring that local independent verification is virtually impossible," she added.
Milosevic has repeatedly attacked the independent media, particularly when he judges that international attention is diverted, meanwhile ensuring that the state media provide blanket support and maximum coverage for hardline policies.
Yesterday, the Belgrade daily "Danas" was shut down under a recent decree which allows newspapers to be banned and their equipment seized if they are deemed to be fomenting "fear", "panic" or "defeatism" in the face of threatened military action by NATO. The same decree has also now been used against at least two other newspapers, "Dnevni Telegraf" and "Nasa Borba", although it appears to breach the FRY's own constitution.
Frances D'Souza further stated: "Clearly, Milosevic is assuming that the Kosovo deal has eased pressure sufficiently to silence his internal critics with impunity. He must not be proved right. The international community - especially the Contact Group - must obtain firm guarantees of media freedom. If the independent media are censored, what credibility can there be in claims of 'transparency' and what hope for effective verification of the Kosovo agreement?"
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