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Since the armed conflict began in February 1998, the Yugoslav government has placed a number of serious restrictions on the work of local journalists, including threats, detentions, and beatings by the police. Independent radio and television stations in the Albanian language are denied broadcast licenses or, in one case, closed down.

The independent Serbian-language media is not exempt from state pressure. News wires, newspapers, and radio stations that report objectively on Kosovo are labeled “traitors” and sometimes threatened with legal action. A complex and contradictory legal framework has made it virtually impossible for independent radio or television stations to obtain a broadcast frequency.

The international media covering Kosovo also faces a number restrictions on its work, starting with the denial of visas to journalists the state considers critical of its policies. A number of foreign journalists have been beaten at demonstrations and fired upon by the police.

Restrictions on the Albanian-language Media

At least five ethnic Albanian journalists were beaten by the police in March 1998 during street demonstrations in Priština. On March 2, the police beat Veton Surroi, editor-in-chief of the daily Koha Ditore, Ibrahim Osmani, a journalist with Agence France Presse and the Voice of America, Avni Spahiu, editor-in-chief of the daily Bujku, Agron Bajrami, a journalist at Koha Ditore, and Sherif Kunjufca, a journalist with Albanian Television. Police forces also broke into the offices of Koha Ditore and beat people who had taken refuge inside; a photographer, Fatos Berisha, jumped from a second story window and broke his leg. Police also broke into the offices of Bujku.102

Since then, at least two other ethnic Albanian journalists have been beaten by the police. According to the Koha Ditore editorial offices in Priština, on August 19, five policemen in Dakovica entered the home of their local correspondent, Musa Kurhasku, and confiscated articles, documents, his telephone book, and a telex machine. Kurhasku was reportedly ordered to the local police station where the police allegedly told him to go to another city, Orahovac, in order to negotiate the release of an ethnic Serb who had been captured by members of the KLA. Mr. Kurhasku reportedly refused to go, saying that it was not a journalist’s responsibility to act as a broker or to do the work of the Red Cross, and was beaten.103 He has gone into hiding, as has another Koha Ditore correspondent, Adem Metaj, from Srbica.

On August 4, an editor with Bujku, Zeke Gecaj, was stopped by the police near the center of Priština. The police took Mr. Gecaj to the local station around 11:00 p.m. where he was questioned and told to report again the next morning. On August 5, he was interrogated for four hours and reportedly threatened.104

The Broadcast Media in Kosovo

The Yugoslav government does not allow any domestic independent radio or television stations to broadcast in Kosovo. Two start-up stations, Radio Koha and Radio 21 were denied frequency licenses in a public tender announced in February 1998. Radio 21 currently broadcasts over the Internet in Albanian and English (

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo can receive the Albanian-language radio programs of the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and the Voice of America. A satellite television program from Tirana, Albania is also broadcast a few hours every day.

On July 1, 1998, the government shut down Radio Kontakt, an independent, multi-ethnic radio station in Kosovo, that strived, in its own words, to be a radio of “good-will and reconciliation” by providing objective news in both Albanian andSerbian. An inspector of the Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry, accompanied by armed policemen in four police cars, entered the station’s offices in Priština and confiscated part of the transmitter.105

In a press conference on July 3 in Belgrade, Yugoslav Secretary of Information Goran Matic said that Radio Kontakt had been closed “because it did not tender in the competition for frequency allocation... this is a technical issue rather than a political one.”106 But Radio Kontakt had submitted all of the necessary documentation for the second round of the frequency tender and had received confirmation from the Ministry of Telecommunications that it would soon be granted a license. The station had been broadcasting only music during an experimental period beginning on June 19, 1998. The confiscation of its transmitter occurred two days after the station had begun rebroadcasting Radio B92, the BBC, and VOA.

Restriction on the Serbian-language Media

The Yugoslav government maintains direct control of the state radio and television, Radio Television Serbia (RTS), which provides news for the majority of the population. State programs blatantly glorify the government’s accomplishments (real or imagined), conceal its failures and, most importantly, manipulate the fears of the ethnic Serbian population. During the fighting in Bosnia and Croatia, and now with war in Kosovo, state radio and television have purposefully spread disinformation and promoted an atmosphere of nationalist hysteria that has encouraged conflict.

Coupled with this is an ongoing attempt to hinder or make illegal the work of the private, independent media that has been struggling to break the information blockade. Conscious of the threat that objective news poses to its power, the Yugoslav government places various restrictions on Yugoslavia’s independent newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations. Censorship is not blatant but is effectively applied through financial controls, legal manipulation, and police harassment.

Independent newspapers and magazines are faced with a host of problems, specifically restrictions on printing and distribution, both industries controlled by the state. Newspaper editors and journalists are sometimes subjected to harassment and, on occasion, physical violence by the police.

On March 6, 1998, the editors of five independent newspapers were charged with disseminating misinformation because of their Kosovo coverage. The Belgrade city prosecutor, Mjedrak Tmusic, accused the editors of Danas, Blic, Dnevni Telegraf, Demokratiya, and Naša Borba “because they published articles, editorials and headlines and broadcast programs which encouraged actions of terrorist gangs in Kosovo and misrepresented measures taken by the Serbian Interior Ministry against terrorists in Kosovo-Metohija.”107 The charges were later dropped.

Independent radio and television stations face even more restraints, including the confiscation of radio equipment and arbitrary bans. The least obvious but most effective restriction is the deliberate lack of a coherent legal framework for the establishment of private radio and television stations, which the government uses to justify the denial of broadcast licenses.108

The complex and contradictory set of media laws at the Serbian republic and the federal level has made it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for independent radio or television stations to obtain a frequency license. At the same time, stations that were either blatantly pro-Miloševic or, at least, strictly commercial and wholly uncritical, have regularly obtained licenses for broadcasts in large parts of the country. Despite numerous promises, the government has failed to introduce legislation that would allow private stations to obtain broadcast licenses, satellite link-ups, or Internet connections in a fair and apolitical manner.

An estimated 400 private radio and television stations have generally been allowed to broadcast, but they are prone to summary closure by the government, as happened to seventy-seven stations in mid-1997, and to four stations in 1998. Most often the state justifies such a closure by claiming that the station in question did not have the proper license to broadcast. This is usually true, but the lack of a license is due to the government’s persistent refusal to grant licenses to any station that broadcasts independent or critical news.

The most recent government action against the independent electronic media was a public tender for radio and television stations to obtain temporary broadcast licenses. According to the government, it was intended to “create order in the airwaves” since “pirate” stations had proliferated. But the questionable legality of the tender, and the secretive and misleading manner in which it was administered, suggested that the government was devising another legal ruse to hinder the free press. The results of the tender, announced on May 16, 1998, proved these fears to be true: the vast majority of independent radio and television stations that applied were denied licenses, while numerous stations with close business or political ties to the ruling elite were granted permission to broadcast, including a radio station owned by Miloševic’s son, Marko, and a television station connected with his daughter, Marija.
For the stations that did get licenses, the government imposed exorbitantly high licensing fees, as much as U.S.$40,000 per month for a television station in Belgrade. The fees were later reduced, but they are still prohibitively high for most stations, especially in Montenegro. Six Yugoslav nongovernmental organizations have challenged the legality of the fees before the Yugoslav Constitutional Court.

The second stage of the tender process is officially still open, since stations were granted an opportunity to resubmit their applications. But the behavior of the government again suggests that most independent stations will be denied licenses. Some stations were not informed of the results from the first round. Other stations that did not get a frequency because of “missing documents” have been denied those documents (such as building permits) by their local authorities.

The frequency tender and the court cases against newspaper editors are consistent with the Yugoslav government’s media policy over the past decade. Miloševic regularly applies particular pressure on the independent media in times of conflict, as there is now with Kosovo.

Restrictions on the Foreign Media

The first problem faced by foreign journalists covering Kosovo is in obtaining a visa for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Many journalists have either had to wait long periods to get a visa, or have been denied outright, especially if theyhave a reputation for critical reporting and are, therefore, considered “anti-Serb” in the eyes of the government.109 Some foreign journalists have also been attacked in the state-run media, accused of “biased” and “anti-Serb” reporting.110

The government has repeatedly complained about the foreign media’s “one-sided” reporting in the Kosovo crisis. In a letter sent to the international press on August 31, Serbian Secretary of Information Alexander Vucic said:

After a deluge of sensational and false reports blaming only one side for everything that happened in the former Yugoslavia—the Serbian people—many reporters and media are directly accountable for the political moves of their governments, and indirectly for the death, persecution and living-on-the-verge-of-death of the Serbs.111

On August 12, the Yugoslav government declared a journalist with the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung persona non grata because he “created and spread evil lies.” Erich Rathfelder, who had been covering Kosovo since 1987, had reported witness statements about mass graves of Albanians killed by the police in Orahovac, which have not been confirmed.112 Rathfelder also claims he was threatened by the police during his last trip to Kosovo on August 2. In an opinion piece published in his newspaper, he said:

I was stopped by five policemen who, after the remark, “You were in Drenica after all,” pointed their weapons at me. They threatened to confiscate my car and to arrest me. The intervention of a Dutch journalist who was following behind me in his car resulted in a calming of tempers.113

On August 14, Friedhelm Brebeck and his two cameramen with the German television station ARD were expelled from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and barred from entry into the country for three years. The government accused Brebeck of inciting Albanians to set a house in Junik on fire—an accusation Brebeck has categorically denied.114 According to Brebeck, the Yugoslav Army checked his footage of Junik and returned it, leading him to believe it was acceptable. On the morning of August 14, however, the police arrived at the Grand Hotel in Priština, demanded the passports of Brebeck and his two colleagues, and told them that they would be escorted to the border with Macedonia.115

Foreign journalists also report increased difficulty in obtaining accreditation from the Secretary of Information in Priština, which is necessary to get through checkpoints throughout Kosovo. In August, the Secretary of Information’s office reduced its working hours to two hours a day, and began demanding a photo identification from every applicant. The office also stopped putting translators’ names on the accreditation document, which made it more difficult for them to get through police checkpoints.

Some foreign journalists have been physically assaulted or shot at by the police. On June 22, 1998, two journalists from the Danish television TV2, Neils Brinch and Heinrik Gram, and their Albanian interpreter were fired upon while in their armored car by the Serbian police near Glogovac.116 No one was injured.

On March 6, a BBC cameraman and an Albanian translator were secretly filming the demolition of houses in Prekaz by the police, one day after the large-scale police attack on the village (see section on Abuses in Drenica). The police fired at them with automatic weapons from a distance as they tried to leave. Both men lay down for about five minutes, but were shot at again when they got up to run away. A bullet hit the journalist’s cell phone which was hanging on his waist, causing a large bruise. The Albanian translator, who wished to remain anonymous, was hit in the shoulder, but the bullet did not penetrate his bullet proof vest. After some time, they managed to get away safely.117

Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters TV, was knocked to the ground from behind by plainclothes policemen as he filmed a street protest in Priština on March 19, 1998. On the same day, a Belgian cameraman working for RTBF in Belgium, Michel Rousez, was beaten by the police near the university.118

On July 6, 1998, two correspondents traveling with a convoy of foreign diplomats were assaulted by men believed to be plainclothes policemen. Kurt Schork of Reuters reportedly shouted at the driver of a car he thought had been driving recklessly. The driver hit Schork in the face, sending his glasses flying. Anthony Lloyd from the Times of London came to his assistance and was kicked in the ribs.119

102 Human Rights Watch interview with Agron Bajrami and Veton Surroi, Priština, May 22, 1998.

103 Although Human Rights Watch could not confirm this account, it is consistent with other reports of Serbian police ordering ethnic Albanian civilians to negotiate with the KLA, such as the cases of Besa Arllati and Dr. Fehmi Vula, also from Dakovica.

104 “IFJ Condemns Attacks on Journalists in Kosova,” Press Release of the International Federation of Journalists, August 5, 1998, and “Bujku Editor in Serb Custody on Tuesday and Wednesday,” KIC, August 4, 1998.

105 IFEX Action Alert, July 7, 1998.

106 ANEM Alert, July 3, 1998.

107 “Prosecutor Takes Action Against Media Over Coverage of Clashes,” Tanjug, March 6, 1998.

108 The broadcast media in Serbia is regulated by the following laws:
A) Federal laws

1. Law on Telecommunications of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY)
2. Law on Mass Media of SFRY

B) Laws of the Republic of Serbia

1. Law on the System of Communication
2. Law on Mass Media
3. Law on Radio and Television
A number of other state bodies are involved in media regulation, including the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Information, and the commercial courts. Relevant laws include the Law on Companies, the Law on Procedure for Entry into the Court Register, the Law on Unified Classification of Operation and Units ofClassification, as well as a series of regulations for the implementation of these laws.
When viewed together, these law and regulations create an unnavigable maze of legal obstructions for private media outlets. For example, under current regulations, the Yugoslav Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications requires applicants for a broadcast license to prove that the station has been registered as a media company at the Ministry of Information and at the appropriate commercial court. But these documents cannot be obtained without first having a license from the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications.
Even taken individually, Serbia and Yugoslavia’s media law and regulations do not guarantee that broadcast licenses will be allocated on a non-discriminatory basis. Article 5 of Serbia’s Law on Radio and Television, for example, gives the government a very broad right to grant licenses, while Article 10 (6) of the same law allows the government to revoke licenses under vague terms.

109 According to Freimut Duve, the Media Representative of the OSCE, Milada Jedrysik and Jerzy Gumowski from the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, an Austrian cameraman Friedrich Wedan and a German television reporter, Hasim Hosny, have been denied visas. “Duve Kritisiert Serbiens Regierung,” Die Tageszeitung, August 28, 1998.

110 See Politika, August 4, 1998, for an article attacking the journalist Halim Hosny, with the German television station ZDF, and Roy Gutman, a reporter for the American newspaper Newsday.

111 “Serb Information minister complains of biased reports,” Reuters, August 31, 1998.

112 “Taz-Korrespondent Erhält Einreiseverbot in Jugoslavien,” Die Tageszeitung, August 13, 1998.

113 “Man Wollte Mich Loswerden,” Die Tageszeitung, August 17, 1998.

114 IFEX Action Alert, August 18, 1998.

115 “Serben Erobern Verlassene Stadt im Kosovo,” Die Tageszeitung, August 17, 1998, and “Jugoslavien Weist ARD-Journalisten Aus,” Die Tageszeitung, August 15, 1998.

116 IFEX Action Alert, June 23, 1998.

117 Human Rights Watch interview, Priština, May 22, 1998.

118 Letter to President Slobodan Miloševic from the Committee to Protect Journalists, March 20, 1998.

119 Committee to Protect Journalists, “British Correspondents Roughed Up in Kosovo,” New York, July 8, 1998.

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