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Police storming of four media outlets in Belgrade sparks international outrage

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 17 May 2000 CPJ press release:


New York, May 17, 2000 --- This morning's police raid on four independent media outlets housed in a Belgrade office building has outraged journalists and opposition forces in Yugoslavia and prompted a storm of international condemnation.

"The Serb journalists we spoke to are more angry than afraid," said CPJ Europe program coordinator Emma Gray. "They have vowed to continue reporting the news independently, even in these dire circumstances. We will continue to support their efforts."

Representatives of the independent and opposition media in Belgrade issued strongly-worded statements about the storming of the offices of the TV station Studio B, Radio B2-92, Radio Index, and the daily newspaper Blic. (TV Maldenovac, a Studio B station in the town of Maldenovac, was also closed in a separate police raid this morning.)

"This is a complete prohibition of free speech," said Veran Matic, general manager of B2-92 and president of the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM). Matic also made an urgent appeal to the public to do everything possible to help prevent a complete media blackout and open dictatorship in Serbia.

In an interview with the independent Beta news agency, Dragan Kojadinovic, Belgrade Studio B's former director and editor-in-chief, described the takeover as "an act of state terrorism."

Vuk Obradovic of the opposition party Social Democracy condemned the raid as "a declaration of war on the democratic opposition in Serbia," while Vladan Batic of the opposition Democratic Christian Party described it as "an invitation to civil war."

International condemnation of the raid was swift and sharp. In Europe, the OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media was among many public figures who expressed concern and dismay at the takeover. The U.S. State Department said that the police action "smacks of desperate, communist-era oppression," adding that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would consult with European allies "to determine what joint actions we will take in response to this blatant attack on the independent media."

Shortly after the raid, the government dismissed the management of Studio B, replacing it with a production team from the state-run Radio and Television Serbia. The new acting editor-in-chief of the station is an RTS employee, Ljuboslav Aleksic, according to Beta. Since early this morning, Studio B has been broadcasting mostly music, along with occasional state television news bulletins, according to local news reports and CPJ sources in Belgrade.

Radio B2-92's regular frequency is now under state control and is broadcasting music, but staffers have managed to broadcast via satellite and on the Internet from an undisclosed location, and local stations are picking up the reports for re-broadcasting. Student Radio Index is completely off the air. The staff of the daily Blic moved to the offices of the opposition newspaper Danas, and produced a four-page special edition later in the day.

Around ten thousand protesters gathered in front of the City Assembly building this evening, according to news reports from Belgrade. Police reportedly used tear gas to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the city center, and an eyewitness told CPJ that three demonstrators were beaten up. Opposition politicians have called for country-wide protests, though local journalists point out that this morning's seizure will make it difficult to spread the message.

A decree signed by Serbian deputy prime ministers Vojislav Seselj and Milovan Bojic stated that the authorities had shut down Studio B because it called repeatedly for "the toppling of the constitutional order and the violent overthrow of the legitimate authorities." The decree also claimed that since Studio B was state-owned the state had simply decided to take direct control of "its own property."

The Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), which runs the Belgrade city government and had control of Studio B until this morning's raid, called for civil disobedience in response to the raid, according to the Beta news agency. The SPO is the country's largest opposition party, and its leader Vuk Draskovic has made similar calls in two recent speeches, according to international news reports. But observers say he has repeatedly disavowed violence.

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