Belgrade opposition pays to save independent TV

BELGRADE, Mar 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Belgrade's opposition-run city government on Tuesday settled debts owed to the state by the capital's main independent television station, heading off its closure and likely protests, a news agency reported.

The move swiftly followed a Yugoslav government warning that it would close down all media which owed money for use of frequencies, in what is seen as a mounting crackdown on independent media.

Dragan Kojadinovic, director of Belgrade's Studio B television station, said the city hall had acted to prevent clashes between police poised to storm the station and it defenders, the independent Beta news agency reported.

He said the city government had paid all Studio B's 11 million-dinar ($244,000 at the black-market exchange rate) debt owed to the federal government.

Leaders of Serbia's reunited opposition on Monday urged Belgrade citizens to rally in front of city hall if the government shut down Studio B.

They said the crackdown, particularly on local media, violated civil rights and was aimed at controlling information sources ahead of local and federal elections due this year.

Hours later, the Yugoslav Army ordered the independent TV 5 in the southern town of Nis to vacate premises it rented from the army by April 24. The TV 5 chief editor said the move was a part of the pressure on non-government media.

Yugoslav Federal Telecommunication Minister Ivan Markovic told a news conference earlier on Tuesday that 168 radio and 67 television stations across Yugoslavia were currently operating without licences.

He said their total debt to the federal government was more than 120 million dinars and gave them a March 31 deadline to pay up or stop operating.

Markovic, a top official of the Yugoslav Left, the neo-communist party led by Mirjana Markovic, wife of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, also said his ministry was expecting police to intervene if necessary.

"As far as the Ministry of Interior is concerned, it is obliged to help us," he said.

Markovic also said that a number of electronic media were operating without meeting technical and legal requirements and that they also faced closure unless they comply.

In the latest state swoop on independent media, police on Sunday shut down a radio and television station in the southeastern town of Pozega. Over the past week, telecommunication inspectors have closed three local radio stations and a provincial television channel and nationalised a popular Belgrade-based newspaper.

Original article