Explosive Reporting

Independent media in Serbia have in recent years become accustomed to "spontaneous", unresolved attacks. Now, in Cacak at least, it's the turn of the regime media.

Explosive Reporting

Independent media in Serbia have in recent years become accustomed to "spontaneous", unresolved attacks. Now, in Cacak at least, it's the turn of the regime media.

Ever since Slobodan Milosevic rose to power in Serbia 12 years ago, nationalism and journalism have become so intertwined that the most respected and successful media have also been the most jingoistic. Not any more-at least not in the southern Serbian town of Cacak.

Reservists returning from the front in Kosovo are venting their frustration at the futility of their mission there and the fact that they have not been paid. One of their first targets in Cacak, a town some 80,000 people 120 km south of Belgrade, was the most war-mongering and patriotic television station Galaksija 32.

On the night of 24 June, the building housing the television station, its transmitter and all broadcasting equipment was blown up. To date nobody has been arrested for the attack.

The station's co-owner and director Milojko Petrovic estimates damage at some 120,000 German Marks. A transmitter belonging to BK Television, the private station owned by the politically connected Karic brothers, and a relay of Radio-Television Serbia were also housed in that building. "This barbarous act was perpetrated by domestic traitors," Petrovic said. "We have always been a thorn in the side of those who have always wished and supported the aggression of NATO fascists."

Despite the brutal tactics used against Galaksija 32, few in Cacak appear to regret the station's demise, which comes at the end of a bitter three-year struggle between the municipal authorities and Belgrade.

The media war began in 1996 after elections in which Milosevic's Socialist Party lost control of the local assembly to a coalition of opposition parties headed by Mayor Velja Ilic.

Belgrade has made several attempts to re-establish control over the local media. The beginning of NATO's bombing campaign gave it the perfect excuse, and all non-conforming voices were silenced under the pretext of the state of war. On the eve of NATO's bombing campaign, Cacak boasted three television stations, 11 radio stations and two newspapers.

Of the three television stations, the newest and most influential was TV Cacak, founded by the local municipal assembly. It began experimental programming at the beginning of the year, and rapidly became the most watched not only in Cacak but also in the nearby towns.

According to its director, Stojan Markovic, all political parties had access to TV Cacak. But that representatives of the ruling party shunned the station. "TV Cacak's concept required guests to answer viewers' questions in live broadcasts, which obviously did not suit them," he said.

Soon after going on air, TV Cacak came under pressure from Belgrade. Although a channel had been allocated for a municipal station, a federal inspector appeared brandishing an order to halt its broadcasts, claiming that it lacked permission to use its frequency.

This first attempt to close the TV station failed, when a group of demonstrators physically stopped the inspector from confiscating the television's broadcasting equipment. As local police called in special police reinforcements to deal with the demonstrators, the situation appeared on the verge of bloodshed. However, the inspector abandoned his request at the last moment and left the TV building.

TV Cacak remained on air even after the beginning of NATO's bombing campaign. It broadcast news 24-hours a day, and, unlike almost all other media in Serbia, refrained from using derogatory terms to refer to the leaders of NATO.

"They immediately began to call us traitors and mercenaries," says Svetlana Kojanovic, acting editor-in-chief of TV Cacak. "Officials of the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Yugoslav United Left, took the lead." Most critical of all was the director of Galaksija, "as we were seen to be their competition".

But when Euronews reported that TV Cacak was the only bright spot in the Serbian media, the station's days were numbered. On April 3, federal inspectors, accompanied by a large police escort, succeeded in confiscating the transmitters. They left behind a ruling explaining that TV Cacak's reporting had undermined the defence of the country.

Following the demise of TV Cacak, the opposition Radio Cacak was forced to give up its frequency to Radio Belgrade's first programme. Radio Cacak continued to broadcast on a new frequency, but was then shut down. As a result, all dissenting voices had been silenced.

Since the end of the war, Milan Kandic, president of the municipal assembly, has vowed to get Radio Cacak back on the air.

"We are prepared to accept the consequences, as we can no longer be silent and only observe as the state of war is being abused for political purposes," he said. "We will also rule that TV Cacak should start broadcasting again." This is unlikely to be smooth. Since Kandic's statement, police have blocked access to the transmission tower, stopping anyone from approaching it.

The author is an independent journalist from Belgrade whose identity has been withheld.

Serbia, Kosovo
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