Inauguration of first independent newspaper printing press in Serbia and MontenegroA new printing press owned and operated by and for private newspapers in Serbia and Montenegro was inaugurated in Belgrade today. The Association of Private Media (APM) printing plant, which started operating this week was set up with the help of UNESCO to bolster media independence in the country.
“The printing press complements UNESCO’s work to support free and pluralistic media in Serbia and Montenegro which started during the war,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura in Paris. “It reflects the conviction that independent production is necessary to consolidate freedom of expression and newspapers’ editorial independence.”
In Belgrade, Radivoj Cveticanin, President of APM, declared: “This is a great day for independent media in Serbia and Montenegro. Initiated in the dark times of Milosevic’s regime, this UNESCO project is being launched as Serbia and Montenegro builds up a democratic society. The printing plant will provide a strong foundation for the achievement of economic independence for the media, a crucial requirement for press freedom as well.”
The plant, with a printing capacity of 45,000 copies per hour, represents an investment of US$4 million. US$3.5 million were channelled by UNESCO from funds provided by the European Commission, Denmark, France and Germany. The plant is owned and run by APM, a consortium of two daily newspapers, nine weeklies and one news agency, and by the Bliç newspaper, which has a 25.1% stake in the joint venture.
The Colorman 30 printing press was bought second hand from Germany and UNESCO provided funding to train the 25 print workers who are manning the 12 metre high and 60 metre long press. Bliç newspaper paid for the land used for the plant and for the remodelling of its building. Staff will increase to 40 once the plant operates at full capacity. The plant is expected to become financially viable thanks to contracts for the printing of other newspapers under negotiations.
Today’s inauguration marked a high point in a decade of UNESCO activities to support independent media in the country. In the early 1990s, as the state-owned media became an instrument of war in the former Yugoslavia, UNESCO began providing independent print and broadcast journalists with equipment and supplies. The Organization helped the media communicate across lines of fire and organize distribution, which is how APM’s distribution operation, APM Transpress, was born.
UNESCO also worked with the World Association of Newspapers, the International Federation of Journalists and the Council of Europe, to set up the Independent Balkan Media Coordination Centre in Slovenia at the height of the conflict in the 1990s to keep track of press freedom violations in the former Yugoslavia.
UNESCO and its programme to support independent media in conflict and post-conflict areas, has been active in many countries: It provided funding, training and equipment to print and broadcast journalists, and expertise to help the government review press legislation, in Afghanistan immediately after the fall of the Taleban regime. In Indonesia, it supported the creation and development of independent community and commercial radio broadcasters. It helped set up the first community radios and the first professional journalist organization in the newly independent Timor-Leste. In Africa, UNESCO has been active in Rwanda, Burundi and Angola. It has been providing journalists with training, and helped create independent newspapers in both Rwanda and Burundi where it also set up Press Houses and supported the creation of new press associations to replace those that disappeared in the violence. Training has also been provided to journalists in Angola since 1998. In the Middle East, UNESCO projects are seeking to revive dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian media professionals, encourage exchanges and improve professional standards. Plans are underway for the co-production of a joint Israeli-Palestinian documentary series under the aegis of the German television broadcaster ZDF.