The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), are concerned about developments in Serbia, where a state of emergency has been declared following the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March 2003.
On 17 March 2003, the Official Gazette (Sluzbeni glasnik Republike Srbije) published an Order on the prevention of “public information, distribution of press and other information about the reasons for declaring the state of emergency and the implementation of measures during the state of emergency”.
According to the information before SEEMO, editors are asked to report only on official announcements from government agencies, representatives of political parties or press conferences, and should refrain from reporting on the reactions of those arrested in the wake of the prime minister’s assassination. Media outlets violating the order could be fined between 50,000 and 500,000 dinars, while the responsible persons could be fined between 10,000 and 100,000 dinars.
Under the state of emergency, the Ministry of Culture is authorised to prohibit the printing, distribution and publication of information, and can also temporarily stop broadcasts and news agency reports.
SEEMO understands the difficult period that Serbia’s young democracy faces after the assassination of Zoran Djindjic and know that everything is being done to bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime. However, we also believe that it is important to choose instruments that will not hinder democratic developments in Serbia. The new rules, with their restrictions on the media, pose a serious threat to press freedom and are open to abuse by the authorities.
In the opinion of SEEMO, it is important not to restrict the free flow of information during this time of crisis. “Effective investigative reporting, which is essential to any democratic society, is not possible in Serbia under the current circumstances,” Johann Fritz, Director of IPI, said. “IPI notes that the distribution of several newspapers has already been prohibited. We sincerely hope that the state of emergency will be lifted soon and that the media will be allowed to publish information it deems important to the Serbian public.”