Journalists Protest Over Serbia Press Gag: "Censorship Will Only Make Crisis Worse"

Journalists are warning that draconian measures to combat organised crime in the wake of the assassination last week of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic will only make matters worse "by creating an atmosphere of intimidation, fear and ignorance."

The International Federation of Journalists protested today over the closure, on 18 March, of two daily newspapers -- Nacional and Dan--the weekly magazine Identidet, and TV Radio station March. The authorities have detained hundreds of people and imposed censorship on media under the state of emergency imposed a week ago.

The IFJ has accused the Serbian government of actions "that smack of the worst media controls since the dark days of Milosevic rule."

"You cannot build democracy by violating human rights and you don't build public confidence by imposing censorship," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White who called for the restrictions on media and reporting to be lifted. The closures of news media have taken place because they carried reports which are critical in their analysis of the government's response to the killing of Djindjic.

"Free and critical journalism is essential in the battle against corruption," said White. "Censorship and intimidation were the tools of organised crime in the 1990s. It undermined public accountability and protected the criminals. The last thing the government should do now is to re-impose the very conditions that permit organised crime to flourish."

The IFJ is appealing to the new Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, a close political ally of the murdered Djindjic to restore press freedom in the country immediately. "It may be necessary to purge the political and state institutions of individuals who are contributing to the current instability, but there is no excuse for restricting the exercise of professional and independent journalism. The people have a right to know what is being done and to subject the authorities to proper scrutiny."