Media Commissioner mulling action against newspaper

PRISTINA, Jul 2, 2000 -- (AFP) Kosovo's UN media commissioner is considering further action against an Albanian-language newspaper after it again published names of Serbs it accused of crimes against ethnic Albanians.

Dita was shut down last month for 10 days after a Serb UN worker it accused of being a paramilitary was abducted and murdered less than two weeks after the daily published his photograph and personal details.

The UN administration's temporary media commissioner, Douglas Davidson, is considering action after Dita on Monday published a front page article naming two Serbs allegedly guilty of attacks on ethnic Albanians.

"Publishing names can put people's lives at risk. It is also violating a fundamental principle of Western journalism that someone is innocent until proven guilty," said Davidson in a statement.

He issued a warning to the Pristina-based daily on Wednesday, demanding an official explanation of what he called a breach of Kosovo's temporary media code brought into force after Dita's first offending article.

That story quoted unidentified ethnic Albanian neighbors as saying that Petar Toplojski, 25, had been a Serbian paramilitary. The UN worker was later kidnapped and found a week later, stabbed to death.

The warning letter to Dita's publisher Behlul Becaj -- who publicly vowed to continue publishing names despite the murder and the closure of his paper -- was the first time the new code had been enforced.

Beqaj responded in the pages of his daily by calling the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors Kosovo's media, Dita's "inquisitor."

OSCE spokeswoman Claire Trevena said Beqaj had until Sunday to officially reply to the commissioner's letter or face sanctions varying from publishing a retraction or apology to a 100,000 German mark (50,000 dollar, 51,100 euro) fine or even closure.

She said no official reply had been received by Friday at 4:00 P.M. (1400 GMT).

Dita's first 10-day closure last month was ordered by Kosovo's top UN administrator Bernard Kouchner on security grounds after Beqaj said he would not stop naming Serbs.

Original article