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Veran Matic, Serbia

World Press Freedom Hero (Honoured in 2000)

Photo by IPI/David Reali, 2010

For more than 10 years, Veran Matic, co-founder of the independent Belgrade station Radio B92, and his staff have managed to provide an accurate, impartial view of the tragic events occurring in their region while standing up to constant pressure from the Serbian authorities. They have withstood threats, physical attacks and arrests. The station itself was banned several times but managed to keep broadcasting until April 1999 when it was taken over by the authorities during the Kosovo conflict. After a gap of four months, B92 came back on the air under a new name, B2-92, and on a new frequency in August 1999.

Born in Sabac, Yugoslavia, in 1962, Matic began his career in journalism in 1984 with alternative and youth media. After a stint with the independent Belgrade television station NTV Studio B, he co-founded Radio B92 with Sasa Mirkovic in May 1989. With a slogan of “Don’t trust anyone, not even B92,” the station’s broadcasts were anti-war and critical of the government and were based on human rights. It also helped make the day-to-day existence of its listeners slightly more bearable with a mix of news, informative programs, call-in shows, entertainment and music.

From the beginning, the station had to fight to elude government efforts to shut it down. It was first banned in March 1991 and again in December 1996 amid the wave of street protests after President Slobodan Milosevic’s government canceled the results of local elections won by the opposition. On that occasion, B92 was repeatedly jammed and then shut down altogether, but it went on operating via the Internet until mass rallies and international protests forced the authorities to reopen the station after only two days.

In October 1993 Matic used his position as editor in chief of the country’s leading independent radio station to establish the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), a network of independent radio stations in Serbia and Montenegro. The goal was to promote the development of independent broadcasting in Yugoslavia and provide listeners with objective news and information as an alternative to Milosevic’s propaganda. Today, ANEM has developed into an imposing media association of more than 50 independent radio and television stations.

Prior to the war over Kosovo, the authorities moved to silence the critical voice of B92 once and for all. The Milosevic regime had already tightened its grip on the beleaguered independent media in Serbia months before the NATO air strikes began by introducing highly restrictive media legislation. Media outlets that continued to criticize the authorities were constantly suppressed. On March 24, 1999, B92 was ordered to cease broadcasting, and its transmission equipment was confiscated. Matic was held at the central city police station for almost nine hours without charge. B92 decided to continue broadcasting via satellite and Internet. Its website registered more than one million hits a day although Western political observers undermined the station by suggesting that its Internet services were not independent. Matic himself was criticized by some because of his voiced opposition to the NATO air strikes.

On April 2, a Belgrade court removed B92’s director, Sasa Mirkovic, from his post and placed control in the hands of a member of Milosevic’s ruling Socialist Party. Policemen sealed off the station’s offices and studios. The offices of ANEM, located in the same building, were also occupied and the staff evicted. B92’s journalists, refusing to cooperate with the new pro-government management, were soon laid off and replaced.

Radio B2-92, with the original team of B92, is once again providing listeners in Belgrade and beyond with free and independent news from Yugoslavia. However, its problems are not over. Matic, now president of the Radio B2-92 board, is concentrating all his efforts on rebuilding the ANEM infrastructure and restoring B92 to its rightful owners. However, the state-appointed directors of B92 have considered taking legal action against B2-92, and the Yugoslav authorities, alleging B2-92 has been using its frequency illegally, continue their attempts to take the station off the air. Nevertheless, Matic remains optimistic. “I am convinced that true changes are going to happen soon. It is then that the role of the independent media will be crucial,” he said.