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December 7, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 270
B92 Strangled

The Topalovics Are Turning Off Their Radio

by Milos Vasic

Even at the moment when tanks occupied Belgrade on March 9, 1991, the regime did not dare to turn Radio B92 off - and it had the same formal excuse as on Tuesday December 3, 1996, when the technical director of RTS who is also, as should be, the director of the Federal Radio Communications Administration (SURV), Milan Topalovic, forbade that radio station to continue it's broadcast. Is the regime more fearful or more impudent now than it was on March ninth, 1991, needs yet to be seen, but it is certainly more confused. Here's how they have been treating Radio B92 and Radio Indeks from Tuesday to Tuesday.

Radio B92 had, in keeping with it's tradition and professionalism, followed the elections, the second round and all 14 days of the protest of the pilfered voters in Belgrade and the rest of Serbia. Radio Indeks, Radio Ozon from Cacak, Radio Bum from Pozarevac, Radio Bajina Basta and a few other local FM stations did the same, although they mostly took over news and other broadcasts from Radio B92. The live voice of that other (pilfered) Serbia reverberated loudly, while RTS programs hid what was going on in Serbia from their subscribers (who, in case you have forgotten, pay them ). Apparently, the regime was so surprised that it needed two weeks to collect itself; during that time, the only thing they knew how to do was to lie that nothing was going on. True measures, however, were taken a few days ago: someone was interfering with Radio B92's broadcast. According to the radio experts and radio-amateurs estimates who were measuring the strength of the field, it seems as though the first step taken towards interference was achieved by activating a certain transmitter located on the CK building at Usce (allegedly a reserve transmitter of the Pink radio station). At first, there was music without speech, and then only a carrier signal; then the second source of "damaging interference" was activated in the Banjica region, which jeopardized reception of the Radio B92 program in the central parts of Belgrade.

In the legal sense of the word, Radio B92 is neither the owner of the transmitter, nor the holder of a license for the use of the 92.5 MHz frequency, but rather Radio-Television Serbia is; Radio B92 makes the program which is broadcasted by RTS. A highly interesting legal confusion springs from that simple fact which we'll expand upon later and which brings to question all that has occurred these days.

As far as the actual interference is concerned, the situation is simple: by the estimate of the technicians from Radio B92, a transmitter of some hundred Watts is sufficient to seriously jeopardize the reception of the signal, since the RTS transmitter by which the program of that radio station is broadcasted is old and very rarely uses all 300 W. There are plenty of transmitters which can be used as interference devices in town, claim experts; some of them point towards the Yugoslav Army, which has equipment and experts for such a task, yet no proof exists; some other experts mention the police, which has technically upgraded it's equipment in the last few years, but no proof exists here either. As things stand in accordance with the law, RTS, that is it's technical director Milan Topalovic should have reacted when the "damaging interferences" (official term) appeared, by addressing the Federal Radio Communications Administration in order to ascertain the origins of the interference and order those who are creating them to eliminate them. That would have been easy since Milan Topalovic is, as we shall repeat one more time, the director of the Federal Radio Communications Administration as well, meaning direct communication would have cut through the red tape. However, that did not occur, so that Radio B92 sent a request to SURV on December 2, 1996 to investigate the cause of the damaging interference on the frequency on which radio B92's program is broadcasted. Milan Topalovic, in the role of SURV director, agreed to undertake what he, in the role of RTS director failed to require himself, and was obliged: to activate the Control-Measuring Center of SURV and ascertain the existence and origin of the damaging interference. The Center did just that on December 3 and - failed to find any damaging interference, as Milan Topalovic claims. During that time the listeners of Radio B92 devised up all manners of catching the signal of their favorite radio station: they carried their radios from room to room, they stretched wires, put their radios into metal baskets and wash-basins and phoned in their advice to Radio B92.

Those who failed to catch B92 despite all the helpful advice, switched to Radio Indeks and the 88.9 MHz frequency, since that station sent in very correct and professional reports on what was going on. Radio Indeks is also part of the RTS system, just like B92, but on the basis of a Contract of April 7, 1992 drawn up between RTS and both Belgrade Universities. The Contract pertains to the "temporary use" of technical equipment, frequency and premises, however that "temporary" time span wasn't defined. The transmitter of Radio Indeks has the nominal strength of 1000W and is situated at the same location as the Radio B92 transmitter.

On Tuesday afternoon, however, the broadcasting strength of that transmitter was lowered to 15-20W with no previous explanation nor warning, which is a breach of contract.

At the same time, the transmitter of Radio B92 was completely turned off, although interferences ceased on Monday evening around 8 p.m., and the program could be clearly heard overnight. Milan Topalovic, in the role of director of the Federal Radio Communications Administration, forwards an official letter to Radio B92. In that letter, which does not stand as a formal decision, but rather a type of act, Topalovic informs Radio B92 that he failed to find damaging interferences, yet by "looking through the files" he found out that the radio station B92 does not have a license for work under the name of RADIO B92, which therefore makes - according to that - it's work "illegal". It is "illegal" because it "uses the frequency of 92.5 MHz for which Radio-Television Serbia holds a license", whose technical director Milan Topalovic, otherwise in accordance with the law, is responsible for the quality of the broadcasted signal and for eliminating eventual damaging interferences - if subscribers file a complaint. Further in the letter, Milan Topalovic (still in the role of SURV director) simultaneously accomplishes two things: he suggests that Radio B92 should submit an application for the issuance of a work license, along with an enclosed contract with RTS, and informs them that the Control-Measuring Center shall continue to control the "eventual appearance of harmful interference" on the 92.5 MHz frequency, whose transmitter he had just turned off (in the role of RTS technical director).

In the midst of that confusion, therefore, it just so happened that Mr. Topalovic has turned off his own transmitter for which he holds a valid license, instead of denying it to Radio B92 by turning on the switch in no. 2 Hilandarska and turning something else on which RTS wishes to broadcast on the 92.5 MHz frequency. Which is how the simple problem of the relations of Radio B92 and RTS was transferred to the Federal Radio Communications Administration, which has nothing to do with it, since the transmitter has a valid license. Which serves as yet more proof of panic: people close to the technical structures of RTS don't understand why anyone would stoop to interference (which was obvious), if they can simply turn one switch whenever they have a mind to, since Radio B92 has been broadcasting for the last seven and a half years just as it had done until Tuesday, since RTS has refused to draw up a proper contract with them since 1989. "There wasn't a single mummy's boy who would have had the courage to sign such an order, so they beat around the bush and used Topalovic, who loves to sign anything", says one of the above mentioned experts.


What They Would Say If They Could

Following many-day-long interferences, as of 2:10 p.m. on December 3 Belgrade citizens cannot hear Radio B92 journalists, as they - practically the only ones on the air - daily inform them of what is going on in the country, world and region, on the streets, behind the scenes, in the top political circles and political underground, on time, in keeping with the best criterion of the profession, as it really is... If it is any consolation, VREME publishes what a few Radio B92 journalists and editors would say on the air at this moment if they could, as to how they feel when, after seven years, their program was cut-off and what steps they shall take.

Aleksandar Vasovic: Utter Unscrupulousness

If I could be on the air now, the first thing I would do would be to inform the listeners of what was going on in the streets: we would have live coverage, news every hour... Meaning, the most standard possible program. I would treat the work ban just like any other item which had occurred and would have given it a bit more attention.

When they forbade us to work, my first reaction was: Oh, shit! Then you realize that you have to work and react which becomes your top priority. You don't have time to scream and shout, to feel miserable. I see all of this as utter unscrupulousness which prohibits me as a journalist to work, and as a citizen it takes away my right to be informed.

Slobodan Stupar: The Beginning of the End

The program was cut at the moment when we were reading out the statement of Mr. Bonsor who had made an analogy between the moment when Hitler came into power and what had occurred during the elections in Serbia... I would continue with the latest news. I wouldn't comment the actual ban. Milosevic has declared himself and has given his comment about all of this. This is a move which is political, non-democratic, against the freedom of public speech...

Aleksandar Timofejev: I Didn't Expect That of Milosevic

If I was to be on the air now, I would say that what has happened is highly illegal, as they say. I would invite people to call in and take part in the program. How we will carry on, I don't know, but I don't feel defeated. What I am afraid of is that this will once again turn out to be a three-day-wonder: that these 200 cameras shall take our pictures, they shall broadcast them and - nothing. It sounds highly pessimistic, but I remember Studio B, I remember all of the 500 people who came to defend Studio B out of the two million inhabitants of Belgrade.

Veran Matic: Breath of Freedom

When the ban came into effect, I had mixed feelings: on one hand I was hit by the very act of repression, and on the other, I even felt relief because I understood that things here were obviously accelerating and that we were, quicker than we had anticipated, approaching a much clearer situation compared to the one which we now have on the political and social scene.

B92 created a concept by which our journalists have continued to work. Therefore, the first day following the ban, we have made an agreement with regards to three radio programs: at midnight each day we shall broadcast a half-hour-long program on the Voice of America; at 9:30 p.m. half an hour on Radio Europe's middle waves, and a couple of times per day we shall have fifteen-minutes-long segments on the middle waves of radio Deutsche Welle.

Bojana Lekic: We Are the Renewal Movement

"Good afternoon, respected listeners", that's what I would say if I was on the air now. This is the first time that I feel like those people who told me how, during World War II, they had chased the Radio London frequency. When the citizens and students were chanting B92 (as well as the name Bojana Lekic, ed. note), I felt support. That meant that we weren't alone, it meant that people could recognize professionalism. When one hundred thousand people chanted that, my lungs felt ready to burst. I am certain that we cannot lose. No way!

Boris Kusovic: Government Fear

I would say, if I could address the listeners, that the government became scared; that it caused an unbelievable reaction, of both the world and the international media and that this radio has confirmed that during these 7,5 years of it's existence it has matured even more than we ourselves had realized; that all that has been going on during the last year and a half on the territory of the former Yugoslavia only proves that what we were saying in '90, '91 and '92 was accurate.

Milica Kuburovic: Somebody is Thinking of Me

While the students and citizens were chanting B92, I must admit that a tear trickled down my face while I waved back; when that horrible snow was everywhere, tons of horrendous snow, and when the kilometers long crowd was passing by, when all were waving and shouting "we're with you", and chanting the names of certain people from the editorial staff and singing "Milica, Milica, Bojana, Bojana". That's something that can't be described. That is the reason why we won't stop working. That stands as proof that someone has been following our seven-year-long activities, that it has meaning and that there is someone who is thinking of you.


Recorded by Filip Svarm

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