Washington, 12 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - The United States and western European nations must nurture a free press in the former Yugoslavia through aggressive support and through economic aid when that is possible, the State Department's top human rights advocate says.
However, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck also says the west must take care that its support does not stifle the independence of a free press by making it too dependent on outside help.
Shattuck spoke at a conference in Washington yesterday on press freedom in the Balkans. The conference was sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency's international radio service, the Voice of America, and by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an independent radio network funded by the U.S. Congress.
Shattuck cited Belgrade's B-92 radio and Zagreb's Radio 101 as examples of free media in the former Yugoslavia that are deserving of western support. He says the struggle of stations like these cannot be underestimated. But he also says that, where there is a free media, there is an opportunity for democracy to grow.
The former Yugoslavia is witnessing the struggle of authoritarian regimes to hold onto power, Shattuck says. He says the authorities know how to use the state controlled media "to fan the flames," of ethnic and religious hatred to promote chaos that serves their ends.
Shattuck says it is essential for western nations to understand the role of the media in promoting conflict if a free media is to be able to prevent conflict.
The challenge for supporters of free and independent media, says Shattuck, is figuring out how to help a free press grow without making nascent free enterprises slaves to economic balance sheets.
He says the U.S. and its allies can help with grants and some economic aid, but he adds that outsiders must be careful here as well so as not to make free media enterprises beholden to third parties.
Shattuck says another avenue that U.S. diplomacy will take to help free media will be to spotlight human rights abuses and make it clear that good relations with Washington depend upon eliminating human rights concerns.
The director of the private Committee to Protect Journalists, Kati Marton, said that while "the autocrat's time is passed," in the former Yugoslavia, journalism is still a dangerous profession.
She says her organization will do whatever it can to call attention to the persecution of journalists, not only in the Balkans but elsewhere in the world. Marton says the committee will, in her words, raise a major fuss at the highest levels of government to seek protection of journalists doing their jobs.