Belgrade, Dec. 7---Kati Marton, the chair of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a two-and-a-half hour meeting today with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, called upon him to cease harassment of independent news media and guarantee "complete and unrestricted press freedom" throughout Serbia and Montenegro. "President Milosevic said he would keep B92 open," Ms. Marton told CPJ after the meeting. The Serbian president assured CPJ's chair that the beleaguered Radio B92 would be "allowed to work freely" and that he "would not interfere in its work in the future." No pledges were given about other independent news outlets that have been closed down or subjected to severe government pressure in recent weeks.
Marton called a press conference in Belgrade for Sunday, Dec. 8 at 5:30 p.m. on the premises of B92-Internet, Makedonska 22, Dom Omladine, second floor, to discuss the current status of the free media in Yugoslavia. The press conference will be hosted by Veran Matic, the founder and editor-in-chief of B92. Matic was a recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 1993.
CPJ's chair travelled to Belgrade yesterday to demonstrate support from CPJ and other Western journalists' groups for the independent radio station B92, which had been shut down for two days earlier this week by the Milosevic government. On Dec. 5, Serb authorities backed down under intense international outcry and B92 was again permitted to broadcast, although a half dozen other independent radio stations are still off the air.
"When I first heard that B92 was being jammed, and then was taken off the air altogether, I knew that I had to come to Belgrade to show solidarity with our colleagues who are courageously attempting to cover the news under extremely difficult and risky conditions," Ms. Marton said in a statement released in Belgrade today.
"We believe that a strong international show of support is required to keep Serbia's free press alive at this critical moment," Marton said. This week CPJ called upon President Slobodan Milosevic to "stop immediately your gross interference in the independent media in Serbia and cease the creation of obstacles for the legal operation of B92 and other media covering the opposition and public events in Serbia."
Marton, an author and former foreign correspondent, has served as the chair of the board of directors of CPJ since 1994. She is the host of the National Public Radio program "America and the World," aired in New York on WNYC and on public radio stations across the country.
B92 and other independent news outlets in Serbia faced interference in
their transmissions and were subsequently shut down by Serb
authorities for two days for their coverage of massive public demonstrations rocking the Balkan nation in the wake of opposition victories in the Nov. 17 municipal elections subsequently nullified by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
The director of Radio B92 told CPJ that the government started interfering with its transmission when the station began reporting on the large daily protest marches in Belgrade and other Serbian cities last week. The government retaliated with sporadic blocking of B92's signal, then with the jamming of all programming on Nov. 28. The transmitter was shut off on Dec. 3 and the station was notified by federal communications authorities that it was illegally operating "without a license."
But on the afternoon of Dec. 5, Serb authorities backed down under intense international outcry, and fortuitously discovered that inclement weather rather than politics had caused B92's troubles. In a letter delivered to the station, Dragoljub Milanovic, general manager of the state's Radio Television Serbia, explained that the "broadcast was stopped due to a misfunction of the transmitter...caused by a penetration of water in a coaxial antenna cable. Due to heavy rain, the penetration of water, by damaging a coaxial antenna cable, created some sort of interference with the transmitter and the antenna system. This caused an automatic switching off of the transmitter."
B92 resumed broadcasting on Friday.
During the shut-down, B92's journalists continued to report directly from the streets of Belgrade, relaying the news through the city by telephone, electronic mail, and duplicated flyers, and rebroadcasting information via Voice of America. Through the Internet, B92 has been posting daily news briefs and maintaining a RealAudio broadcast on its site on the World Wide Web ( www.opennet.org).
Information on press freedom issues worldwide can be obtained from CPJ's site on the World Wide Web at www.cpj.org. CPJ is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to the defense of press freedom and the professional rights of journalists around the world