IFJ Calls on State Journalists in Yugoslavia to Join Movement for Democracy and Press Freedom

THE International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation, today called on journalists working in Yugoslavia's state press and broadcasting system to abandon partisan coverage of the Milosevic regime and to join the independent press in the campaign for press freedom and democracy.

"This is the moment of truth for journalists throughout Serbia and Montenegro. They must abandon structures that have used media to suit the political interests and put their full weight behind the struggle for democracy in the country," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, speaking to editors and journalists' leaders in Prishtina today.

He was speaking after news that some local radio stations in Serbia had renounced state controls of media and said that they would now report objectively.

"Throughout Serbia and Montenegro, the movement for press freedom and democracy is gathering strength. Journalists must put themselves at the heart of the campaign. The independent media have courageously shown the way; now all journalists in all sectors must take up the challenge," said Aidan White.

The IFJ is visiting Kosovo to strengthen efforts by the Association of Kosovo journalists to establish systems of self-regulation and to underline objections to a new press code that has been passed into law by the international community in Kosovo.

"We believe the international community is wrong to try to regulate press ethics by using the law. It is up to journalists and media professionals to take responsibility for ethical matters," he said.

A new press code will be in force until the end of the year, but the IFJ wants that to be repealed and for a new press council administration run by media professionals themselves to take over the work.

"This press law is well intentioned, but badly drafted and will not work. It must be replaced by a proper system of self-regulation as soon as possible," said White.

The IFJ says that events in Yugoslavia and Kosovo are moving fast, but that they offer opportunities for the media to play an important role in building democratic and inclusive structures for peace and stability in the region.

"Journalists are at the heart of the movement for change. We must have the confidence and the professional courage to take up the challenge to keep politicians and governments out of the newsroom by making sure we protect and defend high professional standards," said White.