Serbia and Montenegro | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Serbia and Montenegro

Serbia and Montenegro

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

40

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

17

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

11

Freedom of speech and of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, but political pressure, libel suits, an unreformed regulatory system, and physical attacks against journalists restrict press freedom. There are still a high number of politically motivated defamation lawsuits, and little progress was made in 2004 to decriminalize libel. Two journalists were convicted of criminal libel and given suspended prison sentences. In Montenegro, the opposition daily Dan, based in Podgorica, was sued twice by the prime minister. Independence of the judiciary is uncertain, particularly in Montenegro, where the ruling party appoints judges. The Access to Public Information Act in Serbia was adopted late this year; however, there was immediate speculation that the law would not be implemented properly. In Serbia, a military court indicted a journalist accused of revealing state secrets in his book. The offices of the Helsinki Committee in Belgrade, the book's publisher, were ransacked and the remaining copies of the book confiscated. The unimplemented Broadcast Act is designed to create a regulatory framework and independent Broadcast Council, in order to transform the national Serbian Television and Radio (RTS) into a public broadcaster and allocate broadcasting frequencies. Little progress was made this year in transforming RTS. In March, the Serbian government replaced the general director of RTS with a government loyalist. The next month, using outdated legislation, the Serbian government appointed a new board of RTS. The Broadcast Council's operations have been suspended because of disputes over contentious member appointments. In August, the Serbian parliament adopted controversial amendments to the Broadcast Act, which media organizations argued gave the government more control over the council. In Montenegro, transfer of regulatory authority from the government to an independent regulatory body has been delayed, and as a result radio and television stations could not get licenses.

In 2004, media worked in a polarized political environment, and some journalists still practice self-censorship and avoid politically sensitive topics as a result of legal and physical intimidation. The Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID) reported that owners used certain local broadcasters for personal or party promotion during local elections. In Serbia, the bodyguard of the investment minister attacked the owner of two popular Belgrade dailies. Svetlana Djordjevic, a Serbian journalist who had previously worked in Kosovo, was attacked; an unidentified man broke into her Belgrade apartment, forced her to drink an unknown liquid, injected her with an unknown substance, and demanded she publicly renounce her book on human rights abuses by the Serbian military in Kosovo. In Montenegro, Dusko Jovanovic, a controversial publisher and editor of Dan who had frequently criticized Montenegro's prime minister and faced numerous lawsuits as a result, was killed in a drive-by shooting. One suspect was indicted. Jovanovic's colleagues and media outlets called the murder an attack on press freedom.

There are numerous private media outlets. Independent media were very active and covered diverse political and social views. Media operating outside of urban areas faced stronger pressure from owners and local governments. Media privatization rules were finally adopted for local public media. There is little ownership transparency. A politicized regulatory environment makes it possible for certain pro-government owners to maintain broadcasting licenses gained illegally under former president Slobodan Milosevic's rule and continue to get advantages. This year, a municipal council in the town of Trstenik granted ownership of Television Trstenik to the Serbian Orthodox Church, despite public protests.

In Kosovo, United Nations Mission in Kosovo regulations and the Constitutional Framework provide for freedom of the press. There is a wide variety of print and broadcast media, but freedom of expression is limited owing to frequent harassment and intimidation by local and international authorities. In March, the news team of the independent Belgrade B92 TV discovered a bomb under its van while reporting on violence that had erupted in the region. Later in the year, a local reporter was shot and wounded while traveling in a car in central Kosovo. Following the March riots, the international community blamed the Kosovo media for sensationalist reporting and inciting violence. As a result, the government imposed stricter regulations, which local journalists and media organizations claim restrict press freedom.