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South East Europe experiences regional surge in media violations

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), today expressed concern at the number of press freedom violations, and the pressure directed at the media, in South East Europe in recent weeks.

In Albania on April 7, police confronted a cameraman for one of the country's leading TV channels, Top Channel, who was covering a football match between Tirana and Skenderbeu, stopped him from filming and took him to a Tirana police station where he was allegedly beaten by high-ranking police officers.

This happened after an incident involving the football fans and police, when the Top Channel cameraman was waiting for fans who had been detained to come out. According to the police, the cameraman was taken to the police office because he refused to identify himself. They said no violence was used and that the cameraman was released immediately after he was identified. Top Channel rejected these declarations as untrue.

SEEMO noted that this was not the first attack on Top Channel this year. In March, police surrounded the channel's studios as the result of a state decision, made without prior notice, to terminate a rental contract with Top Channel. The station received a letter from a minister with a one-sided termination of the rent contract - which had in theory been valid until 2025.

Meanwhile, in Trebinje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on April 14 a bishop from the Serbian Orthodox Church verbally attacked Nebojsa Vukanovic, a correspondent for the BN TV channel, apparently because he was displeased by the journalist's reporting. “If I were to judge you, it would be a knockout, so it is better that you be judged by Saint Vasilije,” the bishop said, according to media reports. The bishop also suggested that journalists were maligning Trebinje, naming Vukanovic as an example.

SEEMO also said it was concerned at threats, including death threats, against the journalist Predrag Lucic made on various web portals in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The group noted that this was not the first time that web portals in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been used for death threats against journalists.

In another development, SEEMO said it was surprised to hear that Bulgarian journalist Boris Mitov, who works for Mediapool, was summoned on April 5 to the prosecutor's office for questioning over one of his reports. SEEMO said the move appeared to be a clear-cut case of pressure directed at a journalist.

SEEMO also expressed surprised to hear that on April 11, without prior announcement, cable platform IPKO moved national licensed broadcaster Kohavision (KTV) from Pristina from the position of channel three to that of channel 83 in the cable system, and that viewers were prevented from rearranging and listing the channels as they wished. KTV, one of the only three national broadcasters, has thus been reclassified in the category of local broadcasters.

SEEMO further called on Kosovo authorities to investigate an attack with automatic weapons on the building and studio of the radio station Kolasin in Zubin Potok, which occurred in the morning hours of April 16.

In Serbia, SEEMO welcomed a police investigation into, and the bringing of criminal charges against, the chief of the heating plant of the City of Nis and two other persons after Predrag Blagojevic, a journalist and web editor of Juzne vesti, received death threats.

SEEMO Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic urged Serbian authorities to keep the promise they made to investigate the unsolved killings of three journalists in Serbia: Radislava Dada Vulasinovic, Slavko Curuvija and Milan Pantic. Vujovic said that authorities in Belgrade must ensure that both the perpetrators and masterminds are prosecuted after so many years. Vujasinovic was killed in 1994, Curuvija in 1999 and Pantic in 2001.

Finally, SEEMO expressed concern at the circumstances under which Denis Latin, Ruzica Renic and Katja Kusec were relieved of their positions within the Croatian public broadcaster Hrvatska Radio Televiija (HRT) in March. He called on the government and the HRT management to refrain from any action that could lead to censorship and threaten editorial independence.

Commenting on the regional surge in press freedom violations as a whole, Vujovic said: "I urge the authorities to create a safe environment for journalists, to investigate all forms of attacks and threats against journalists, and to cease activities that could make the work of journalists harder. Different views, and investigative reporting, need to be accepted, promoted and supported by state authorities, including through transparent investigations into all forms of attacks on journalists."

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