From firstname.lastname@example.org Sun Aug 11 10:30:08 2002
Date: Sat, 10 Aug 2002 01:35:30 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: ANEM Press Release
BELGRADE, August 7, 2002 The Association of Independent Electronic Media strongly protests a court decision to fine the publisher and editor-in-chief of Belgrade daily Danas 300,000 dinars in a case brought by writer and former Yugoslav president Dobrica Cosic.
The Third Municipal Court in Belgrade ordered publishing company DAN GRAF and Danas editor-in-chief Grujica Spasovic to pay 300,000 dinars compensation for the emotional distress suffered by Dobrica Cosic over a text published in the October 6-7 edition of Danas last year. The report by Milan Colic claimed that, as Yugoslav president at the time, Dobrica Cosic ordered the shelling of the Croatian town of Vukovar. The verdict was passed by a three-member court council presided over by judge Vera Musovic. As requested by Cosic, the money will go to the Association of 1990 War Veterans and the children of killed soldiers.
ANEM stresses that Danas undeniably made a serious professional error in publishing the disputed text, since Dobrica Cosic at the time of the Vukovar Operation did not occupy any political position, least of all Yugoslav president. However, it is also undeniable that Danas published the disputed text as an authorial piece a report from a scientific gathering, without an editorial stance or comment just as they published Cosics denial as soon as they received it, providing an appropriate opportunity to deny the claims made in the text.
Since both personal dignity and freedom of press and public information are rights guaranteed by the constitution and international regulations, ANEM emphasises that the courts which decide in cases in which these two clash must form their decision based primarily on the principles of justice, and independent and unbiased opinion. Judges must take into consideration the fact that high compensation fees for non-material damages create a threat of self-censorship, thus violating another basic human right of freedom of press and public information. Furthermore, courts must accept the fact that politicians and the text published by Danas refers to Dobrica Cosic as head of state and not a private person by the very nature of their public position must develop a higher tolerance threshold. It would be highly unacceptable if the practice of seeking large sums in compensation for “emotional pain” in complete contradiction to the economic situation in the society which politicians in Croatia pursued at one point, now also caught on in Serbia.
This is why, in the continued absence of a Public Information Act that would provide more detailed regulation of this field, the role of the courts becomes that much more important. Courts must weigh their decisions and take into consideration their importance in society.