Accessibility links

Media Matters: June 4, 2004

4 June 2004, Volume 4, Number 10
By Liz Fuller

In the spring of 2003, a small group of Azerbaijani journalists founded the independent Press Council, which attempts to mediate disputes between the media and the authorities and to improve working conditions for journalists. It also campaigns to raise standards of journalism, and generally acts as a self-regulatory body for the print media.

At the time of its foundation, representatives of several prominent newspapers expressed doubt that it would be able to achieve anything, given the restrictions within which independent and opposition Azerbaijani media outlets are constrained to function (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). But the Second Congress of Journalists in Azerbaijan, which took place in Baku in late April, gave a positive assessment of the council's activity, while noting the problems with which it must grapple.

In March 2003, senior members of the Azerbaijani leadership and representatives of the human rights community hailed the creation of the Press Council. Presidential-administration official Ali Hasanov and Ali Akhmedov, executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), both termed it a "positive" step. Hasanov said that government agencies would respect the council's decisions. Leyla Yunusova, director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, said the fact that journalists took the initiative and established the council themselves is a positive development. At the same time, she expressed regret that not all print media had given their backing to the new organization.

The council comprises 15 members, elected in March 2003, two of whom are parliamentary deputies; one a poet; three academics; and the remaining nine are either newspaper editors or heads of professional organizations representing journalists. The chairman is Aflatun Amashov, the driving force behind the formation of the council.

In an interview with Turan in mid-March 2003, Amashov explained that the council differs from the other 60-odd journalistic organizations in Azerbaijan in that those bodies are mostly engaged in supporting media freedom and protecting journalists' rights. The Press Council, for its part, seeks in the first instance to regulate relations between journalists and the rest of the community. In that respect, one its primary functions is to seek to resolve complaints about media coverage before they reach the courts. In recent years, prominent Azerbaijani officials have frequently brought libel suits against opposition media outlets, and the courts have generally taken the side of the plaintiffs, imposing severe fines that often threaten the newspapers involved with bankruptcy. At its first session in early April 2003, the Press Council formed one commission tasked with drafting guidelines for assessing such complaints, and a second that would actually process complaints. It subsequently published an announcement giving the telephone numbers in Baku of council members tasked with reviewing such complaints within a two-month period.

The council's rationale and objectives were enumerated in an appeal to journalists and readers that was circulated on 11 April 2003 and summarized by Turan the following day. That document stressed that neither the government nor political or economic interest groups should seek to pressure the media, which for their part should endeavor to provide "full, impartial, and accurate" information. The print media should abide by a code of professional ethics, respect basic human rights and freedoms, promote tolerance, and should not allow themselves to be used to insult anyone's honor and dignity. Disputes involving the media should be resolved by the Press Council, and the authorities should respect the council's decisions and refrain from filing "groundless" lawsuits against individual journalists or media outlets.

It quickly became clear, however, that at least some media outlets did not consider themselves obliged to comply with the Press Council's proposed code of conduct, and continued to violate basic journalistic and ethical standards. In a statement dated 2 June 2003, the Press Council noted that "norms of professional ethics are being violated, journalism is not meeting democratic standards," and, as a result, the development of "true pluralism and tolerance" is being hindered and "society is being drawn into a confrontation." A second statement released in late July listed 12 newspapers, some of them pro-government and some pro-opposition, which, it claimed, continue to publish "defamatory, insulting, and false information" about then President Heidar Aliyev and other political figures.

It is not clear to what extent those departures from professional ethics are to be attributed to the rising tensions resulting from President Aliyev's lengthy hospitalization in the run-up to the October 2003 presidential election. The absence of regular medical bulletins and the resulting uncertainty about the ailing octogenarian president's health spawned any amount of sometimes sensationalist speculation. But by the same token, the absence of information does not justify the publication of unverified information or lurid speculation, such as a report published by the opposition paper "Azadlig" on 13 August that the president was being prepared by staff at the Cleveland Clinic for a heart transplant, the donor purportedly being a 64-year-old Colombian killed in an automobile accident.

Such reports highlight what could be termed the obverse of the litigation syndrome: the fact that many media are apparently either unaware of ethical norms or do not consider themselves under any obligation to observe them. As long as that unprofessional attitude persists, the Press Council will find it difficult in many instances to dissuade outraged officials from resorting to libel suits. The council continues, nonetheless, with its efforts to establish a forum for resolving disputes before they reach the courts. In January, it established a Permanent Commission for the Investigation and Elimination of Conflicts Between the Mass Media and the Authorities. That commission, which includes representatives of the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the Prosecutor-General's Office, will meet monthly to review complaints.

A second focus of the Press Council's activity targets another aspect of the lack of professionalism of some media outlets in Azerbaijan: the recourse by some journalists to blackmail. This practice involves a journalist fabricating an article incriminating a selected target, who is then invited to pay a substantial sum to avoid having the material published. Addressing a session of the Press Council on 10 February, Amashov divulged that the council had "recently" received 15 complaints of alleged blackmail. He said that on investigation, such complaints could be divided into three categories: either the journalists in question denied any wrongdoing; or the blackmailers and their victims were reconciled; or the individuals who lodged the complaints later withdrew them. Amashov named four newspapers that were the subject of such complaints, but the prevalence of the practice is clearly far greater.

A second Press Council member, "Azadlig" Editor Ganimat Zakhidov, estimated that of 1,300 registered newspapers in Azerbaijan, 1,000 engage in blackmail. Two months later, in late April, Amashov said the council had received some 500 complaints of blackmail since the beginning of 2004, compared with 130 between April and December 2003.

Further details of the extent of media blackmail were divulged during a subsequent Press Council session, which focused on the situation in seven rural districts, reported on 26 March. Media specialist Rahim Guseynzade, who is editor of the regional newspaper "Gyrkh chyrag," told those present that over the previous six months, more than 200 journalists from 35 papers descended on those seven districts, claiming to be conducting research for future articles on the economic and social situations there. None of them, however, ever produced the articles they claimed to be researching. The editors of the newspapers "Azerbaycan" and "Adalyat" made the point that there exist dozens of newspapers whose titles are similar to those two, and that unscrupulous journalists deliberately trade on their sources' lack of familiarity with the media landscape to claim a false but impressive affiliation.

Amashov declared at that March session that the council will continue to battle against blackmail, including by publicly identifying those publications that have been shown to engage in it. But that is likely to prove an uphill battle. Elchin Shikhly, editor of "Ayna-Zerkalo," pointed out that one of the factors that impels unscrupulous journalists to resort to blackmail is widespread poverty. Some journalists, Amashov said in early February, simply contact schools and local government offices to beg for money to buy food. The precarious financial situation of many print publications is due at least in part to an informal ban on the publication of advertisements in opposition papers, according to on 4 May.

The Press Council can, however, point to two notable achievements. It has instituted its own system of press cards, which are awarded only to those media outlets whose compliance with standards of ethics is exemplary and who sign formal contracts with their journalists and make regular social-security payments on their behalf. Amashov noted in early April that between 30,000 and 60,000 people in Azerbaijan claim to be journalists, although only 3,000 are actually engaged in serious journalism. The first press cards, which are valid for two years, were presented at a ceremony in early April to journalists from the newspapers "Ayna-Zerkalo," "Azerbaycan," and "Kaspii" and from the Turan News Agency, Turan reported on 2 April.

The Press Council has also commissioned the manufacture of special jackets to be issued to journalists covering political demonstrations that might turn violent. (This writer can testify from personal experience while attending demonstrations in Baku during the run-up to the October 1998 Azerbaijani presidential election that riot police show no compunction about threatening and attacking journalists.) The jackets are light blue, with the word "PRESS" emblazoned in black on the front and back. Daily newspapers will be issued with four such jackets and weekly publications with two, Amashov announced.

It should be noted that the Azerbaijani authorities' attitude toward the Press Council remains ambivalent. Speaking at the Second Congress of Azerbaijani Journalists in April, presidential-administration official Hasanov admitted that the government has not honored its pledge to provide the council with a permanent office. At the same congress, the member responsible for monitoring the council's finances announced that only 25 percent of the council's founding members have paid their annual dues. Whether financial problems might force the council to scale back its activities is, however, not clear.

As in many other former Soviet republics, the media in Armenia function under considerable economic, legal, and bureaucratic constraints. As a member of the Council of Europe since 2001, Armenia has enacted legislation that, on paper, guarantees media freedom. In practice, however, the media landscape is dominated by media outlets that are either headed by government appointees or belong to businessmen with close ties to the government. And as in many other CIS states, the electronic media predominate, as dwindling purchasing power has made newspapers an unaffordable luxury for much of the population.

According to statistics compiled by the Armenian office of Internews last year, Armenia has 45 television stations, most of them privately owned and broadcasting only to one town or region; 18 radio stations, similarly mostly local; and 35 newspapers.

Television is the primary source of information about both international and domestic political developments for the overwhelming majority of the Armenian population. Armenian public television broadcasts 18 hours per day, and in a survey conducted in 2002 it was the most popular of all available television stations. But since the closure in April 2002 of the independent television station A1+, which was fearless in its criticism of the country's leadership, there is no longer any independent television broadcaster in the country. Over the past two years, A1+ has participated in eight separate tenders to acquire a new broadcast frequency but has lost all of them. No further frequencies are likely to be available over the next five years.

In a statement released in March, the British-based media watchdog Article 19 noted that Armenia's public television channels "still fail to fulfill [their] public-service remit. Opposition politicians and government critics still have very limited access to the public broadcaster." The governing board of the broadcaster is appointed directly by the president, and thus cannot be regarded as independent. The same Article 19 assessment also noted that amendments to the broadcasting law enacted in December failed to strengthen the independence of the State Commission on Television and Radio Broadcasting, the body responsible for issuing broadcasting licenses.

Print media are overwhelmingly partisan. Of the dozen or so "serious" dailies, "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" is government-sponsored, and several others have close ties with particular political parties. "Hayots ashkhar" is close to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, one of the two junior partners in the three-party ruling coalition. "Haykakan zhamanak" is reportedly sympathetic to the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, and "Iravunk" is the organ of the small Union of Constitutional Rights.

The advertising market is still in an embryonic stage, which means that papers must rely primarily on sales for their incomes. But the limited purchasing power means that print runs rarely exceed a few thousand (in a country with a population of 3.2 million). The dailies with the largest print runs are "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" and "Haykakan zhamanak" (both 6,000). "Aravot" appears in a print run of 5,000, while "Azg" prints only 3,000 copies. With the exception of "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun," all the above papers have their own websites, as do the twice weeklies "Golos Armenii" (in Russian) and "Iravunk," and the weeklies "Yerkir" and "Ayb-Fe," the latter of which is published by the owner of A1+. But the Internet editions are targeted as much at Armenia's diaspora as at domestic audiences.

A study of the Armenian media commissioned by Internews last year observed that most media consistently fail to present an objective and accurate picture of developments in the country, let alone promote pluralism and political dialogue. It is noteworthy that one of the key demands of the opposition parties currently campaigning for President Robert Kocharian's resignation is live airtime on Armenian public television. The Internews study also noted that standards of journalism are frequently low, and that the government shows little interest in fostering sustainable, independent media.

Among the positive developments on the Armenian media scene in recent years, the British-based NGO Article 19 lists the passage in September of a modern information law. But on the negative side, in April 2003 parliament passed a new Criminal Code that provides for prison sentences of up to five years for libel, insult, or slander. The harshest penalties are for defamation of representatives of the authorities, including judicial bodies, and of political parties and individual candidates contesting elections. The Armenian authorities have ignored repeated pleas from the Council of Europe and the OSCE to amend the new Criminal Code to decriminalize libel.

Armenian journalists are divided over the relative merits and shortcomings of the new media law. The initial draft unveiled in March 2003 was rejected by parliament as undemocratic. The National Press Club protested that a slightly revised version of the bill presented to parliament in September was equally undemocratic and unacceptable, while the Yerevan Press Club called for its passage after further amendments. Article 19 evaluated the final version of the law passed in February as a significant improvement on the legislation it superseded and noted that recommendations from various nongovernmental bodies were incorporated into the final draft. At the same time, Article 19 pointed to shortcomings, including restrictions in the process for accreditation and the requirement that all media outlets publish annual financial reports.

Article 19 recently expressed similar misgivings about proposed amendments to the law on freedom of information that, the NGO suggested, would weaken the existing law by curtailing the list of categories of information that should be made publicly available.

No Armenian journalists have been prosecuted for their professional activities over the past year, and there have been no physical reprisals against independent journalists comparable to the October 2002 grenade attack on Mark Grigorian, but in light of the unpredictability of such attacks, many journalists resort to a degree of self-censorship.

In its 2003 survey of press freedom globally, Freedom House downgraded its rating of the Armenian media from "partly free" to "not free," citing the government's repeated use of legislation on national security or criminal libel to prosecute journalists, physical assaults on and intimidation of journalists, as well as the effective silencing of A1+. On 3 May 2002 and 2003, World Press Freedom Day, Armenia's National Press Club branded President Kocharian an "enemy of press freedom." (RFE/RL)

Of the three Transcaucasus states, Azerbaijan has by far the most repressive media climate. In its annual rating of press freedom worldwide, Freedom House this year ranked Azerbaijan in 156th place of 193 states, among those countries where the media are designated as "not free."

The constraints on media freedom in Azerbaijan are threefold: political, economic, and legal. Political power is the prerogative of a small group of powerful and wealthy individuals loyal to President Ilham Aliyev. Parliament is dominated by deputies from Aliyev's Yeni Azerbaycan Party, with the opposition holding only a handful of the 125 seats. Media outlets at both the national and the local levels that are either state-controlled or owned by individuals close to the Azerbaijani leadership systematically fuel the myth of the leadership's wisdom and infallibility while criticizing the opposition for allegedly ignoring national interests in its aspirations to come to power.

Over the past several years, the Azerbaijani leadership has taken measures intended to create the impression that formal constraints on the media are being abolished. Press censorship was formally abolished in August 1998 in the run-up to the presidential elections in October that year. In December 1999, the Azerbaijani parliament passed a new law on the mass media to supersede the one passed in 1992. The new law guaranteed the independence of the media and prohibited either censorship or the establishment of any agency to control either the funding or the content of the media. The Council of Europe nonetheless almost immediately objected to specific provisions of the new law, including the article that provides for depriving a journalist of his accreditation, or suspending publication of a newspaper, without a court judgment. But the amendments the Council of Europe demanded were passed only in December 2001. Those amendments simplified the procedure for creating and registering media outlets, lifted obstacles to private financing, and banned the suspension of publication except on a court order.

The Azerbaijani leadership has also provided some financial support for independent media outlets in the form of grants and the extension in 2003 for three years of the deadline for payment of newspapers' debts to the state publishing house. But the print media in particular remain extremely vulnerable financially. Late last year, several opposition newspapers were constrained to suspend publication due to a steep rise in the price of newsprint (a senior government official reportedly controls the monopoly import of that commodity). Since January, one newspaper, the independent "Yeni zaman," has suspended publication due to financial problems and a second, the opposition-oriented "Hurriyet," has closed down.

Most independent newspapers appear in very small print runs of 5,000 to 10,000 copies. But even though articles published in such newspapers reach only a small percentage of the country's 8.23 million population, print journalists regularly incur the wrath of members of the ruling elite by publishing articles and allegations, sometimes unsubstantiated, criticizing senior officials -- who then retaliate by bringing libel suits against the journalist and sometimes also the editor of the newspaper in question. In 2003, a total of 40 such lawsuits were brought against 18 media outlets, including 11 against the radical opposition paper "Yeni Musavat" and seven against the more moderate opposition daily "Azadlyg."

This practice of litigation, which almost always results in the judge either suspending publication or imposing a massive fine and/or damages, sometimes of a magnitude that bankrupts the publication in question, has become the primary instrument with which the Azerbaijan authorities seek to keep the independent media in check.

In addition, over the last year, the Azerbaijani authorities also regularly resorted to harassment, intimidation, and even violence against journalists, particularly in the run-up to and the immediate aftermath of the 15 October presidential election. According to Azerbaijan's independent Committee to Protect Journalists, 39 cases of psychological pressure and threats against journalists were registered in 2003; 133 journalists were subjected to physical pressure, mostly during unauthorized demonstrations; and 60 journalists were detained by police while attempting to report on political developments, including the clashes between opposition supporters and police in Baku on 15-16 October in the wake of the presidential ballot. There were 60 instances in which the authorities confiscated the entire print run of a newspaper.

Data on the number of television channels in Azerbaijan are contradictory. Reporters Without Borders in December 2003 gave the total figure as 40, of which five broadcast throughout the country. Internews lists 12, while in January 2004 an Azerbaijani media expert said there are 15. Four television stations (including the two state-run channels) broadcast nationally, while the remainder are local with a maximum estimated audience of 500,000 people. In addition to the BBC World Service and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, there are seven radio stations, four with their own websites. According to Arif Aliyev, head of the independent journalists' union Yeni Nesil, the lack of pluralism is a more serious problem in the electronic media than the print media. That imbalance is all the more disturbing in that television and radio reach a far wider audience than does the press, let alone the Internet. Arif Aliyev said that all electronic media outlets that have begun broadcasting over the past six years are controlled by individuals loyal to the Azerbaijani authorities.

One of the commitments Azerbaijan made on being accepted in January 2001 into full membership of the Council of Europe was to create an independent public broadcaster. Although the National Press and Radio Council was created in early 2003, its chairman and other members are appointed by the president, calling into question its independence and objectivity. Legislation on creating a public television station on the basis of the first channel of Azerbaijan state television was passed in its third and final reading in early January, but two months later President Aliyev refused to sign the bill into law and sent it back to parliament for unspecified amendments. The final version of the law did not incorporate any of the recommendations made by the Council of Europe and other international organizations between May 2003 when the bill was adopted in its first reading and the second reading in December 2003.

Both Reporters Without Borders and the OSCE issued detailed recommendations to the Azerbaijani authorities in late 2003 for reversing what they perceived as a deterioration of the situation of the media since Ilham Aliyev was named acting president in August. Those recommendations included the decriminalization of libel and other related measures intended to preclude the use of legislation on libel and insult to silence independent media outlets; the creation of an independent public broadcaster with an independent board of governors; punishing police guilty of gratuitous violence against journalists; and ensuring the release on bail and free and fair trials for journalists detained in the wake of the presidential ballot.

Presidential official Ali Hasanov rejected both organizations' criticisms of official actions taken against journalists, claiming that there are no restrictions on media freedom and pluralism in Azerbaijan. Hasanov added that the Azerbaijani authorities do not need such advice from international organizations and do not feel constrained to implement their recommendations. (RFE/RL)

For the past several years, Georgia has enjoyed by far the most liberal media climate of the three South Caucasus states, and in contrast to neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan is ranked by Freedom House among those countries where the media are free. But since the so-called Rose Revolution in November that toppled President Eduard Shevardnadze, two international media watchdogs have written to Shevardnadze's successor, President Mikheil Saakashvili, expressing concern at instances of pressure and harassment against Georgian independent journalists and media outlets. Moreover, the former autocratic leader of Adjara, Aslan Abashidze, used to condone reprisals against journalists affiliated with Tbilisi-based media who sought to cover demonstrations by oppositionists calling for his resignation.

The events that culminated in Shevardnadze's ouster testify both to the degree of independence and to the influence of the Georgian media. Both the first channel of state television and the independent satellite television station Rustavi-2, which can be seen by some 84 percent of the country's population, broadcast extensive coverage of the mushrooming protests against the authorities' attempts to falsify the outcome of the 2 November parliamentary election to ensure a victory for the election bloc that supported Shevardnadze. State-television Chairman Zaza Shengelia resigned on 19 November after Shevardnadze criticized the coverage of domestic political events by state television's first channel as lacking objectivity. Shengelia told a press conference later that day that he believes state television has a responsibility to present diverging points of view. Saakashvili reinstated Shengelia in February in acknowledgment of his loyalty.

In the months immediately following Shevardnadze's ouster, late-night talk shows on both Rustavi-2 (perceived as loyal to the new leadership) and the first channel of state television (perceived until Shengelia's reinstatement as sympathetic to the country's former leadership) were closed down, but a parliamentary commission formed to investigate the reasons for that move ruled out any political motivation.

As elsewhere in the CIS, economic decline in Georgia has given rise to a situation in which much of the population cannot afford to purchase newspapers and therefore relies on television as its primary source of information. Georgian independent newspapers have had to battle for survival. The average print run is between 12,000 and 15,000, the same as it was in 1995. (The country's population is 4.5 million.) In Georgia, as in many other former Soviet republics, the intelligentsia, which in normal circumstances would have been the primary market for the "quality" press, is one of the most economically disadvantaged sectors of the population. Opposition politician Irakli Gogava estimated in February 2002 that 70 percent of newspapers in Georgia are bought by politicians. Only a handful of Georgian papers, including "24 saati," "Tribuna," "Mtavari gazeti," and the weekly "Eko," have Internet editions.

Georgian political scientists admit that the general standard of journalism in Georgia could be higher, partly because some journalists still resort to self-censorship rather than risk incurring the wrath of powerful politicians, and partly because the political passivity of much of the population is not conducive to the production of memorable and provocative writing on key issues.

A poll conducted in January 2001 indicated that public confidence in the print media was increasing, but it is not clear whether this trend has been sustained. But a second poll conducted in January 2003 listed five papers -- "Rezonansi," "24 saati," "Dghe," "Akhali taoba" and Tribuna" -- that were consistently perceived as both reliable and professional.

In 2003, there were 50 television stations and 18 radio stations in Georgia, most of them privately owned and broadcasting only locally. The only Georgian television channel that can be received throughout the country is the first channel of national television.

The Council of Europe has made clear to the Georgian government its desire to see national television transformed into a self-financing public broadcaster, but the financial problems facing the new Georgian leadership would seem to preclude any such move, and the channel's employees have protested the extensive staff cuts that they fear would ensue.

Smaller independent television stations in the regions cannot compete with either national television or Rustavi-2 in terms of news gathering or size of their audiences, but journalists employed by such stations (and by local newspapers) risk incurring the wrath of their local governor if they focus on corruption or irregularities that reflect badly on local administrations. In February, journalists employed by a local television station in Bolnisi, southeast of Tbilisi, staged a protest against the dismissal of the station's director, who fell afoul of the local administration, which owns a 50 percent stake in the station.

The original law on the mass media passed in September 1991 when Zviad Gamsakhurdia was president remains in force. Many political scientists, journalists, and some parliament deputies consider that it adequately protects journalists' rights and freedoms. New legislation on the press and on the electronic media was drafted in 2002 but has not yet undergone its first reading in parliament. The law on the electronic media imposes restrictions on the establishment of electronic media outlets by political parties, individual politicians, and religious denominations.

In February, an independent Media Council was founded with the backing of the Council of Europe. The aim of the Media Council is to protect freedom of speech and raise media standards and professionalism. (RFE/RL)

By Patrick Moore

Montenegrin authorities and German forensic experts are continuing their investigation of a killing that has mesmerized the small mountainous republic since late last week. Dusko Jovanovic, who was the chief and responsible editor of the opposition Podgorica daily "Dan," was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his offices late on 27 May. It is not known who killed Jovanovic or why, but speculation is rife in a country where talking politics is a national passion.

Shortly after the killing, investigating Judge Radomir Ivanovic said that he has several people in mind as suspects but did not elaborate. Montenegrin police found a car containing an automatic weapon in Podgorica on 29 May, both of which are believed to have played a role in the killing. German forensics experts subsequently arrived to help with the investigation. At least two individuals were taken into custody, both of whom appear to be linked to the car and its history and might not necessarily be suspected of involvement in the crime itself.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic, journalists' professional associations, and opposition leaders were quick to condemn the killing, calling for the killers to be brought to justice. Interior Minister Dragan Djurovic offered a $1.2 million reward for information leading to solving the case, adding that he will resign if it remains unsolved. The government seemed to be at pains to show that it means business lest its reputation at home and abroad be damaged.

Montenegrin opposition parties held a candlelight vigil at the site of the shooting on 28 May. The previous evening, the opposition parties agreed they will continue to work to bring down Djukanovic's government, which they accused of corruption and involvement in criminal activities.

Jovanovic's funeral took place on 30 May, and the next day more than 100 journalists attended a memorial gathering in his honor.

Speculation among the public at large and in much of the media turned to possible political motives behind the killing, with members of Jovanovic's own family hinting that unnamed people close to Djukanovic might have been involved. Lidija Bozovic, who handles the newspaper's legal affairs, said that Jovanovic had asked for police protection on several occasions but did not receive it. The police are known to be firmly under Djukanovic's control.

"Dan" generally reflects the views of the opposition, especially the Socialist People's Party (SNP), which was allied to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In the early 1990s, when Montenegro was a staunch ally of the Serbian leader, lawyer Jovanovic headed the Financial Police and then the Department of Public Revenues.

By 1997, Djukanovic decided that his and Montenegro's futures were best assured by breaking with Milosevic and appealing for Western support. When Djukanovic then solidified his grip on the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Jovanovic and his allies, led by Momir Bulatovic, left it and founded the SNP. That party in turn split in 2001, following which Jovanovic left active politics.

In recent years, Jovanovic, "Dan," and the YU Media Mont company have been the object of at least 30 lawsuits stemming from charges published in the daily that Djukanovic has been involved in cigarette smuggling and human trafficking.

A Serbian court issued an arrest warrant for Jovanovic on charges that he embezzled $400,000 in 2000 from the Zastava plant in Kragujevac. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted him for contempt of court for publishing in 2002 the name of a secret witness who testified against Milosevic, dropping the charge after Jovanovic apologized.

In short, Jovanovic was not quite the typical poster boy readily embraced by NGOs and Western governments in supporting crusading journalists in countries with questionable democratic credentials. His killing nonetheless seems to fit a pattern well known to observers of Serbian politics, where many killings before and after the fall of Milosevic -- including those of some journalists -- remain unsolved (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, and 12 December 2003).

But in Montenegro as in Serbia, caution is certainly in order in considering who might be behind a killing. Throughout much of former Yugoslavia, the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and organized crime mix and move together in ways hidden from public view. What might seem at first glance to be a crime with an ethnic or political motive behind it, for example, could eventually prove to be rooted in murky business dealings or long-standing personal feuds. What does seem sure in this case, however, is that no one is likely to have undertaken lightly the killing of such a prominent individual as Jovanovic.

Whatever the motive for the crime, his fellow journalists tend to see his killing as a direct attack on the freedom of the press. Mili Prelevic, who is an editor of "Dan," said that the daily will continue to publish and to write about topics that interested Jovanovic. He told RFE/RL that the killing was a "terrorist crime," adding that the government must surely know who did it because Montenegro is a small country in which everyone knows everyone else's business.

Elsewhere, the Association of Journalists of Montenegro said in a declaration that Jovanovic's killing was an attack on the media as a whole. Association President Savo Gregovic stressed that the killing is a deathblow to freedom of expression in Montenegro, which has long been under threat. He told RFE/RL that this "serious crime" shows that Montenegro is nothing like the solid democracy that the government claims it is.

European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin told MINA news agency by telephone that the report of Jovanovic's killing was "shocking news."