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Media: Yugoslav Outlawing Of RFE/RL Fits Patterns

Yugoslav authorities have declared Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty activities illegal in their country. The international radio broadcaster has been operating a Belgrade bureau for six years. Our correspondent, Don Hill, says this is one news story in which the background may tell more than the event.

Prague, 21 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- When the government of President Slobodan Milosevic declared RFE/RL illegal in Yugoslavia yesterday, they simply added one more piece to a pair of continuing patterns.

Yugoslavia has grown stronger in its denunciation of U.S. policy toward its government ever since NATO's bombing campaign last year to force a halt to ethnic cleaning in Kosovo. RFE/RL is an independent radio broadcaster financed by the U.S government. The Yugoslav Information Ministry cited U.S. policy as one of its reasons.

The other pattern consists of Yugoslav authorities' systematic crackdown on independent press, radio and TV news operations over the last few months. RFE/RL officials say they believe that Yugoslavia's rulers fear allowing the Yugoslav people any source of news that the government does not control.

RFE/RL President Tom Dine puts it this way:

"This is an unfortunate move, this is a very disappointing move by the Serbian government because it shows that they cannot tolerate the reporting of what is actually happening inside Serbia, that they cannot deal with truth."

The ministry's first move was to ask the broadcaster to register its Belgrade bureau. The bureau's staff was fully accredited, but the government had never in the bureau's six years of operation mentioned a registration requirement. RFE/RL complied with the request.

Then, yesterday, Information Minister Goran Matic sent the broadcaster's management in Prague a letter denying the registration. Matic said that the authorities would regard all activities of the bureau as illegal. He said he would take what he called "proper legal measure" against anyone who worked in Yugoslavia without "proper authority." RFE/RL broadcasts in the local languages to most of the nations of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Iran and Iraq. Nenad Pejic is director of the RFE/RL's South Slav Service. Pejic says he believes that Milosevic and his allies are suppressing news organizations in anticipation of coming elections. Pejic:

"The elections are coming on and, I guess, the main reason of the regime is to provide as little information as possible to their citizens. In this, they can easily manipulate them."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty says its long-held policy is to broadcast balanced and factual news to all its audiences, without special regard for U.S. views or those of the countries in which it operates. Pejic says that the Yugoslav government's charges that the broadcaster shapes its reports to be hostile to Yugoslavia are unfounded.

"RFE/RL usually reports about two sides of a coin, and you don't need to build up any kind of propaganda against Milosevic's regime. You need to broadcast the facts only. That's what we are doing. State propaganda broadcasts only one point of view. It is the point of view of Serbian officials and, of course, they have been bothered because the people are getting the other side of the coin."

In recent weeks, U.S. officials in Washington have been encouraging Milosevic's opponents in Montenegro, Kosovo and Yugoslavia proper to engage in dialogue and to cooperate with each other.

(NCA's Bruce Jacobs assisted with this story and the audio)