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American journalists call for Serbian freedom of information

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The Society of Professional Journalists, meeting in Los Angeles, has called for repeal of the Law on Information adopted by the Serbian People's Assembly on Oct. 20 and the reopening of independent news media silenced last month by the Serbian government.

The Society also called upon everyone engaged in peacemaking in Yugoslavia to make freedom of information a priority goal for all negotiations and peace settlements.

"Wherever writers are silenced, the world is less free," said John Hopkins, chairman of the Society's International Journalism Committee and a copy editor at The Miami Herald. "It is not just a Balkan issue if the Serbs or the Kosovars are denied news of their public affairs; it affects all of Europe and each country that has any interest in the continent's peace."

The Society's 13,000 members represent all levels of the news industry from university students of journalism and their teachers to writers, editors, broadcasters and publishers. It is the largest organization of news professionals in North America.

The suppression of news in Yugoslavia and specifically Serbia was discussed at a convention program of the Society, and the resolution prepared by members of the SPJ Press Freedom Network was reviewed overnight and adopted Oct. 23 by delegates from SPJ chapters in large cities and small all across the United States.

In recent days, the Serbian authorities have used the new law to close the Belgrade weekly magazine Evropljanin (European) and fine the owner, printer and editors a total of 2.4 million dinars or $240,000. Various publishers have explored registering their media in the other Yugoslav state, Montenegro, to sidestep the Serbian law. Meanwhile, the Association of the Independent Electronic Media announced a petition drive for repeal of the new law. Members of both independent and pro-government media in Yugoslavia have been subjected to harassment; reporters for Radio Pristina and the Tanjug agency are believed to have been abducted in Kosovo on Oct. 18.

The complete resolution follows:

Resolution on the suppression of news media in Yugoslavia

WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists is committed to a free flow of news and access to information in every part of the world, and

WHEREAS the Serbian authorities have by edict closed the independent newspapers Danas, Nasa Borba and Dnevni Telegraf in Belgrade and two of the Serbian radio stations carrying news about the recent fighting in Kosovo province, and

WHEREAS the Serbian legislature subsequently passed a law forbidding publication or broadcast of news originating outside Yugoslavia, and authorizing confiscatory fines for writers and publishers of matter seen as "undermining the constitutional order," and

WHEREAS such authority is so broad as to allow the seizure of any printing press or broadcast station that offends the state's officialdom, and

WHEREAS Yugoslavia's president pledged free elections within nine months, and

WHEREAS a free election presupposes citizen access to all information relevant to the course of events in their country,

THEREFORE, be it resolved:

THAT the Society of Professional Journalists deplores and opposes these steps to limit the flow of information to the people of Yugoslavia, and

THAT the Society calls upon all concerned authorities to repeal the 1998 information law and to allow the reopening of the closed news media, and

THAT the Society urges all nations and international organizations involved with peacemaking in the various conflicts within Yugoslavia to make the free and unthreatened gathering and distribution of news one of the goals and requirements for all future negotiations and peace settlements.

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