- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Can it really be true that the U.S. government supports censorship? It surely looks that way. The support expressed last week by the State Department for the closing down by the United Nations of the Albanian newspaper Dita in Kosovo appears to be an endorsement of the very same methods employed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, hardly a man one would expect the world community to emulate. A lack of police and knowledge about the United Nations' own employees have led to this decision which threatens the hope of democracy in devastated Serbia. The newspaper was back on the streets yesterday, but the questions raised by the decision to choose censorship remain highly troubling.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, for his part, is simultaneously tightening his grip on the independent media in Serbia. Fines, court cases and arrests are part of everyday life for Serbian journalists, and Mr. Milosevic's recent closing of the TV station Station B and Radio B2-92 tie the hands of the media even tighter. A proposed anti-terrorism law will provide Mr. Milosovic with the tools to criminalize the media and could lead to the execution of journalists in some cases. Not that the government has not attacked journalists before. Zeljko Kopanja, of the Bosnian Serb daily Nezavisne Novine lost his legs in a car bomb attack after he began investigating war crimes. Slavko Curuvija, editor of the Dnevni Telegraph, was shot outside his home to mention but a few.

When the international community in the form of the United Nations, with the U.S. government backing up, chooses to follow in the footsteps of the totalitarian Serbian regime, there is clearly something badly wrong. The problems of Kosovo cannot be solved by censorship.

The incident which led to the censorship decision by the United Nations involved the murder of a young Serbian U.N. translator whose name had been published in Dita, as well as allegations that he had participated in horrible war crimes against the Albanian people. Perhaps if law enforcement in Kosovo had been better organized, if Western officials had managed to organize a criminal justice system that Kosovars could have faith in, Dita would not have felt compelled to publicize the case. Furthermore, critics say that the United Nations should have had a better screening process in place for its personnel to make sure they were not involved in any way with war crimes.

Instead of handcuffing struggling journalists, the West should support them through legal defense funds and national and international solidarity funds. This would help them fight back in the legal system. Moreover, the United States and its allies should not be afraid of provoking Mr. Milosevic. Recent polls show that his support is declining dramatically. He has been indicted by the International Human Rights Court in the Hague. This is a desperate man clinging on to power like a leech sucking on a corpse.

Freedom of the press is an immensely important brick in the rebuilding of democracy in Serbia and Kosovo as it is of any free society. We should not endorse attempts to undermine that principle.

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