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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

Definitely not the party to be seen at

The new state-approved management of the formerly independent Radio B-92 held a party to mark the station's tenth birthday on September 8 - despite the fact that, before the takeover in March, B-92 was a major thorn in the regime's side.

By Milenko Vasovic in Belgrade

The Serbian media world was recently surprised to get an invitation to celebrate this week's tenth anniversary of Belgrade's world famous Radio B-92. For the invitations came from the new state-approved management of the station, which fired all the old independent staff in March.

The Serbian authorities decided to go ahead and hold the tenth anniversary party for the station on Wednesday, September 8, regardless. For the former staff did not give up, and are now broadcasting again under a new name, B2-92.

Ironically the ten years celebrated by the state station Wednesday were spent as a thorn in the side of the Belgrade regime. When the NATO bombs began to fall in March, Dragan Tomic, Speaker of the Serbian Parliament, called B-92 the "main radio locator guiding NATO aircraft to targets in Yugoslavia". It was ordered off the air and its entire staff dismissed.

Immediately after the murder of Slavko Curuvija, owner of the daily Dnevni Telegraf, by an unknown gunman during the NATO air war, Veran Matic, editor-in-chief of B-92, left Belgrade and moved to Montenegro.

Now he and his old crew of journalists are back at home, on Belgrade's airwaves. The old B-92 team has signed an agreement with the media company Studio B to broadcast their programme on one of their frequencies (99.1 MHz FM).

But Studio B is under the control of Vuk Draskovic and his party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). This is why, according to Veran Matic, the most important condition is that the SPO and Draskovic should not interfere with the new B2 92's editorial policy.

Members of the team producing the programmes are the same as before the government closure, only the broadcasting has been reduced to 12 hours a day. According to the law, one station cannot cede more than 12 hours of its broadcasting time to another station.

The entire radio and TV programme produced by B2-92 is also now being rebroadcast over a satellite link operated for the members of the Association of Independent Electronic Media across Serbia. Soon, the programme will be rebroadcast via satellite link 24 hours a day, though Matic still has hopes that the old B-92 frequency will be returned to it one day.

"If the SPO decides to enter a coalition with the regime," says Matic, "we will break off the agreement with Studio B and continue to broadcast the programme over the satellite, and will try to cover Belgrade with the help of the local stations."

It is expected that most of the opposition will boycott early elections, if called, if freedom of the media is not assured first and Serbia's restrictive information is not lifted.

The radio's old team is deeply embroiled in legal battles with the regime, whose control of the courts gives it a clear edge in the struggle. Matic's team has brought a dozen law suits claiming that the state's March takeover was illegal. In reply the Federal Ministry of Telecommunications has written to the new station claiming that it did not have the right to broadcast without registering the output as a public medium.

The Serbian Ministry of Information has sent a similar note to Studio B as the frequency holders. The legal view, at present, is that this strategy will fail in the court as B2-92 classes itself as a single 'programme' broadcast over Studio B's frequency, rather than a 'public medium' in its own right.

This, however, does not imply that the regime will not try other methods to silence or at least limit the new station's output.

The good news is that there is little danger of confusing the state-run version of B-92 with the new independent B2-92. The regime's version broadcasts news items that are immediately identifiable as state sanctioned news items. They recently included announcements titled "Price Rises Are Slowing Down" and "President Milosevic Receives A Delegation From The Communist Party Of China".

Ironically the state-run station is now using the new transmitter that the old team bought with the prize money that went with the 'Free Your Mind' freedom of speech award it won from the US pop video network MTV last year.

The old Radio B-92 was a cult success among many Belgraders. It was shut down twice before, in March 1991 and again in December 1996, both times when anti-government street protests were at their height.

Both times the banning orders brought the station's supports out on the streets again in protest. But similar protests were impossible when the final axe fell, with NATO bombs falling nightly on the city. This last was the story's greatest irony. NATO managed to help Milosevic do what he could never have achieved alone - close Radio B-92.

Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor from Belgrade.

© Institute of War &Peace Reporting

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