Kosovo conflict sparks Serbian clampdown on independent news media.

Wednesday, March 18, 1998

Kosovo conflict sparks Serbian clampdown on independent news media

(Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 March 1998)

The ongoing violent conflict in Kosovo has seen a heavy handed effort on the part of the Serbian dominated federal authorities to stifle their independent news media.

When the violent clashes erupted between Serbian police and the predominantly Muslim, ethnic Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo in early March, Serbia's independent news media was initially allowed on the scene to cover the events. Their style of critical reporting soon proved too much for the authorities back in Belgrade. Intolerant of any news reporting that deviates from their official line, Belgrade's Prosecutor's office, on March 9, accused editors-in-chief of the newspapers Blic, Nasa Borba,Danas, Dnevni Telegraf, Demokratija as well as "certain television stations", of encouraging "the acts of terrorists" and giving "a false image of the acts of the Serbian police in Kosovo," according to Reporters sans frontières (RSF).

On March 10 1998, Slavko Curuvija, editor-in-chief of Dnevni Telegraf, and Ivan Mrdjen, editor of Nasa Borba, were taken to a police station and interrogated about the coverage of their respective newspapers regarding the police intervention in Kosovo.

The official news agency, Tanjug, reported a statement given by the Prosecutor's office explaining the official version of the government's paramilitary intervention in Kosovo, which the independent news media refused to convey: "The operations of the Interior Ministry are solely aimed at armed units which attack the police and the civilian population and are intended to re-establish order and ensure the safety of all the citizens of Kosovo," the statement said.

Serbia revoked Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 and has since ruled the Albanian-majority province under virtual martial law. Belgrade insists that those being killed in its massive operation against the separatists are "terrorists". Meanwhile, the interior Ministry has claimed 20 members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) had been "liquidated" in the police operation of March 5 and 6. Ethnic Albanian sources say the latest reports by Belgrade authorities of at least 50 people killed is low. They are also suspicious of the authorities' apparent haste in burying the bodies of those killed in the paramilitary intervention.

The recent crackdown of the Serbian authorities on the independent media is having a drastic effect on the ability of Serbian citizens to obtain an unbiased account of events within their own country. Independent media are the only voices in Serbia seeking to provide independent coverage of the conflict in Kosovo.

Click here to visit the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) and access a list of Alerts on the current situation in Kosovo.