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news 15 Mar 13

OSCE Abused in Stormy Serbian Media Debate

A group of men threatened members of the OSCE mission to Serbia during a hot-tempered debate in Nis on a draft law on public information.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

A group of young men in hoods interrupted a public debate on law on public information in Nis on Thursday, insulting two members of the OSCE mission to Serbia.

The incident happened as the two OSCE speakers appealed for calm and an opportunity to express their views. Several men surged towards one of the OSCE officers, threatening to hit them, but were prevented by other people. Police arrived soon after.

This was the third debate on the draft law in Nis organised by the OSCE Media Department in Serbia.

The law envisions state withdrawal from the media and a hatg to direct budget funding for local media, in line with EU standards. Adoption of the law is part of the Serbian government's media strategy, adopted in September 2011.

Nis local television, NTV, fears the new law will lead to its closure as state funding is its main source of income.

Prior to the debate, it launched a media campaign, presenting the law as forming part of an agenda to shut it down

In other similar adverts, people in Nis were invited to come to the debate to "save their television." As a result, around 200 people showed up, shouting at the speakers, so that journalists were afraid to speak.

Peter Burkhard, the Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, called on Friday for respect and civility in public dialogue.

“I regret that this public forum was disrupted – threats and violence have no place in democratic debate,” Burkhard said in a statement. 

“The OSCE Mission to Serbia helped organize this debate on the draft law on public information to inform the public and facilitate its participation in the legislative process," he added.

NTV denied that there was violation of public order at the debate and dismissed reports by national broadcasters that an incident occured.

"How is it that none of the 20 cameras from different media that were present did not record the alleged incident, nor any of the hundreds of attendees could testify that the incident happened?" NTV asked in a statement.

"Such reporting of Serbian national television, including the public service broadcaster, is the best proof of why this part of Serbia needs a regional public service broadcaster," the station added.

Serbian media associations have issued a statement calling on media workers and politicians to keep discussions on the draft law calm.

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