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Novi Pazar mayor's office interfering in TV station's editorial stance

(ANEM/IFEX) - The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS) and the Independent Journalists' Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) protest pressure being put on TV Jedinstvo, a member of ANEM, by the municipality of Novi Pazar.

The pressure began at the beginning of April 2010, after the Commercial Court in Kraljevo ordered the city administration of Novi Pazar to pay almost four million dinars (approx. 40,000 euros) to TV Jedinstvo. The court found that the city had violated a contract it had with TV Jedinstvo, in which the media company was due to receive 5,000 euros each month for the purpose of reporting on the activities of the mayor and the city administration, institutions and companies. The media reported that the legal office of the city of Novi Pazar appealed the verdict. The current mayor, Meho Mahmutovic, had decided to terminate the contract, signed in December 2008.

ANEM, NUNS and NDNV point out that the Law on Local Self-Government stipulates that local governments are legally obliged to look after public information that is significant at the local level, and to provide an adequate environment for such a flow of information. The fact that the city of Novi Pazar is at the same time the founder of the Public Information Company, which broadcasts a program under the name of "Regionalna TV Novi Pazar", does not absolve the city administration of their legal responsibility to look after the public information segment at the local level and to provide adequate conditions for such information to be delivered via commercial media outlets. All these requirements are especially important in the case of TV Jedinstvo, which is objectively the leading electronic media outlet in Novi Pazar, as measured by its ratings and the audience share in this area.

ANEM, NUNS and NDNV note that of special concern is the fact that the the city administration's decision to terminate the contract appears to be based on a political motive. It seems that the reason lies in the attempt to influence the station's editorial policy, the manner of its reporting and the selection of interviewees and topics. ANEM, NUNS and NDNV point out that according to the Public Information Law, information in Serbia is free and no one, including the local government in Novi Pazar, is allowed to limit this freedom in any way.

The obligations of local governments, in accordance with this Law, have to be performed in a manner that benefits the public and must not be abused for political purposes. The fact that the contract with TV Jedinstvo was signed at the end of 2008 by the former mayor, Mirsad Djerlek, who was relieved of his duties in September 2009, and the fact that the ANEM member asked for legal protection because of the local government's contract violation, cannot serve as an excuse to terminate the contract as long as TV Jedinstvo performs its professional obligations according to the contract.

ANEM, NUNS and NDNV express their solidarity with the journalists and editors of TV Jedinstvo and insist that the co-financing of public information from governmental budgets has to be regulated in a manner that will prevent abuse, such as payment conditions being placed in exchange for favorable reporting on the government. Journalistic standards and the principles of independent reporting must be respected.

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