State-run media starts to turn on hated regime

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The Independent Online

Scores of journalists refused to serve as Slobodan Milosevic's personal propaganda tool for the first time in years yesterday as the edifice of Yugoslav official media began to crack.

Scores of journalists refused to serve as Slobodan Milosevic's personal propaganda tool for the first time in years yesterday as the edifice of Yugoslav official media began to crack.

The journalists, including 80 at the state-run news agency Tanjug, petitioned their editors and managers to change the government media's strictly pro-Milosevic editorial policy and allow them to report fairly on the momentous events in their country.

"The practice of one-sided reporting should be stopped immediately," said a petition signed by 49 journalists on the pro-government Politika daily addressed to the editor-in-chief, Dragan Antic. Mr Antic is a close friend of the Milosevic family.

"Bearing in mind our responsibility towards the people of Serbia, Tanjug has to respect their will, expressed in the elections," said the petition sent to the Tanjug bosses.

Mr Milosevic precipitated the most serious crisis of his 10-year rule by refusing to recognise opposition claims of victory in the 24 September elections and by ordering a run-off against the opposition presidential contender, Vojislav Kostunica.

For the official media, until now completely loyal to the Yugoslav president, Mr Kostunica and his Democratic Opposition of Serbia were Nato-backed enemies of the people. They said that the street protests by tens of thousands of Serbians were the work of foreign agents, generously paid for by Western countries.

Politika's latest edition included, apart from a report of Mr Milosevic's televised speech of defiance on Monday, a story about the arrest of cigarette smugglers in Italy, and an item from London about how today's children may live to 130.

The Serb state television network, RTS was also holding the official line, ignoring the strikes, and talking gamely about the impending second round of the election, which the opposition does not recognise. But there were reports of turmoil in the newsroom too.

The independent Beta news agency reported that some RTS editors had demanded changes in the network's "arrogantly one-sided" and "humiliatingly unprofessional" policy.

Serbian journalists recognised that they are putting their jobs on the line by signing the petitions. "It does not matter now. The way they want us to work is simply humiliating," said a journalist from Politika.

The Serbian government has warned that it would act to avert any "subversive activity". But the move by so many journalists in the state media is potentially devastating for Mr Milosevic, who also faces an unprecedented revolt by managers of several large state enterprises - all of them Milosevic appointees - who have resigned since the election.

Signs that his traditional power base in the security forces was beginning to fray were also evident. Members of his most loyal unit, the feared paramilitary police, stood by as opposition activists brazenly blocked roads.

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