Serb news agency fined for libel

BELGRADE, Apr 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Belgrade court fined the Independent news agency Beta and dismissed charges against the opposition newspaper Blic on Tuesday in a libel case brought by Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic.

Beta said it was fined 310,000 dinars and Blic, Yugoslavia's highest circulation opposition daily, was dropped because it had only carried a Beta report on a student protest last week.

The fine is equivalent to $6,900 at the black market rate and $25,800 under the official rate. No one at the court was immediately available for comment.

Matic sued Beta and Blic for publishing a slogan used during a protest by the student movement Otpor in Sremska Mitrovica: "Goran Matic, who killed Slavko Curuvija?"

Curuvija was chief editor and owner of the daily Dnevni Telegraf and the periodical Evropljanin, both critical of Yugoslav and Serbian authorities.

He was gunned down outside his home on April 11 last year - one of a long list of unsolved murders in the past few years.

Matic, in one of a string of recent cases under Serbia's strict information law, said Beta's report damaged his honor and reputation.

Matic also accused Beta and Blic for falsely reporting that he owned Radio M in Sremska Mitrovica, outside which the student protest was staged on the anniversary of Curuvija's death.

The ruling explained that Beta news agency had published an "untrue information" which had hurt the "personal rights of Goran Matic in the media". Both Beta and Blic rejected the charges during the hearing earlier on Tuesday and called for the case to be dismissed.

Neither Blic, which has faced similar action before, nor Beta, for whom this was a first, had been optimistic about the outcome.

"We don't have too many illusions. They will fine us for certain, because that law exists so they can collect their bounty," Beta director Radomir Diklic told Reuters after the hearing, referring to recent court action against other media in Serbia.

The information law mandates speedy proceedings so the ruling had to be brought within 24 hours and the fine also has to be paid in the same period.

Original article