Reporters Without Borders today welcomed Serbian President Boris Tadic's refusal to promulgate legislative amendments passed by parliament on 19 July that would have given the country's Broadcasting Council the power to impose arbitrary sanctions.
“We hail the president's decision and we hope parliament will heed the criticism by withdrawing those amendments that violated press freedom,” the organisation said.
The proposed package of amendments will be debated again during the next parliamentary session beginning in September.
21 July 2006
Parliament gives Broadcasting Council arbitrary power to withdraw licences
Reporters Without Borders today firmly condemned amendments to Serbia's broadcasting law that were hastily adopted by parliament on 19 July without prior consultation. They give the Broadcasting Council the power to strip radio and TV stations of their licences without any right of appeal. Stations that lose their licence must stop broadcasting at once or the authorities can use force.
“We are shocked by the way parliament rushed through amendments that violate undertakings that the Broadcasting Council should be impartial and respect pluralism,” the press freedom organisation said. “The law now gives broadcasters no means of defence when a ban is imposed on them, and it says nothing about the grounds for withdrawing a licence.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “It is unacceptable that a body created to regulate the media in a European country should be able to close down a radio or TV station in an arbitrary fashion. We call on the government to revise these amendments and to consult press freedom organisations and public agencies concerned with the media.”
Serbia's broadcasting law has been amended three times since it was first adopted in July 2002. The two earlier set of amendments were also rushed through in the summer without any prior public debate. The imminent end of the parliamentary session was used each time as a pretext for acting with haste.
The Broadcasting Council imposed a severe punishment on BK TV, the country's first privately-owned TV station, on 26 April of this year by temporarily suspending its licence. Owned by controversial businessman Bogoljub Karic, a onetime associate of the late President Slobodan Milosevic, it was banned from broadcasting for 30 days because of its political positions.
The supreme court issued a ruling on 19 May quashing the Broadcasting Council's ban on the grounds that it was not based on an concrete fact or legal provision. The council responded by criticising the ruling and announcing that it would bring a complaint against the supreme court and BK TV.