[FOUNTAIN]Milosevic's Media Muzzle

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[FOUNTAIN]Milosevic's Media Muzzle

Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, was handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on Thursday on charges of ordering the mass killing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. What attracts our attention is that his massacre of ethnic Albanians began at the same point that he started gagging the press.

The Milosevic regime issued a decree on Oct. 8, 1998, banning the local press from reprinting stories in foreign media about Yugoslavia. The move was part of an attempt to muzzle the media amid growing criticism at home and abroad after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization took issue with Milosevic's oppression of ethnic Albanians.

At about half past midnight on Oct. 13, 1998, agents from the Serbian Ministry of Information stormed the newsroom of the Dnevni Telegraf, one of Yugoslavia's most popular daily newspapers. They confiscated the next day's newspapers that critically reported the Kosovo crisis and forced reporters off the premises. They even tried to carry out the owner and editor-in-chief, Slavko Curuvija still sitting in his chair. Later, other newspapers such as Danas and Nasa Borba were attacked for criticizing the government. The press resisted strongly. Newspapers banned by the government for violating the decree were published under new names or imported after being printed in neighboring countries, such as Hungary and Bulgaria.

On Oct. 20, the government and the ruling party made a new law that allowed the government to impose heavy fines on news organizations for "false reporting" or defaming the government or its officials. The law was aimed at blocking the publication of newspapers by suffocating them financially.

Dnevni Telegraf finally closed down operations on Nov. 9, giving in to an enormous amount of fines. Dete, an independent news agency, and neutral newspapers such as Danas and Nasa Borba followed suit.

After that, criticism about government policies disappeared in all news organizations. As a result, there was no one to stop the government from implementing reckless policies that culminated in the bombing of the country by NATO.

As soon as NATO began its bombardment, the Milosevic regime took over B92, a radio station, and Studio B, a television station run by an opposition politician. The people of Yugoslavia had no one to appeal to about their plight. They took to the streets and ousted Milosevic from power in late 2000.

Muzzling the media spells disaster for both the government and the people.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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