BUDAPEST — Serbia’s political crisis, sparked by a failed presidential election, rocked the airwaves last week when a politico and his bodyguards took over the TV Cacak studios and berated on-air talent for criticizing local government.
Velimir Ilic, mayor of Cacak, broke into the studios hours after Serbia’s elections were annulled due to low participation on Oct. 13.
In a litany of abuse that began when Ilic called a phone-in talkshow the previous night, he told on-air talent Jelena Katanic to “go home and look after your sheep.”
Ilic’s outburst reveals how television in Serbia becomes the front line during political upheaval and instability.
Ironically, two years ago Ilic and pro-democratic forces ousted Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic by storming the downtown studio of Radio Television Serbia, beating its pro-regime programming manager on the street and forcibly taking control of the national network.
So important was the seizure of Serbia’s broadcast outlets that one of Serbia’s paramilitary armies attacked and occupied the studios of pro-government net Studio BTV, helping to ensure the revolt’s success.
Ilic’s heavy-handed action makes Serbian TV a target for future political protests until the dust clears and a new head of state is elected.
Senior journalists and journalist associations have protested his actions; Ilic has previously been accused of threatening media employees.
Federal Information Minister Slobodan Orlic condemned the attack, calling Ilic a bully.
Talking head Katanic and a fellow journalist intend to take legal action against the mayor and hope to persuade Serbia’s Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to join the fray on their side.
Djindjic and Ilic are political rivals, which Ilic claims caused him to take arms against the local TV station. In a press conference, Ilic said the Serbian prime minister incited the station to criticize his administration.