Vienna, 4 July 2011 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, said today she was concerned about three media outlets owned by Plus Production facing closure for alleged tax evasion. She urged the country to adhere to rule of law principles in handling their cases.
“Newspapers Vreme, Shpic and Koha e Re were not printed today. This is a very disturbing development that has practically eliminated pluralism and opposition views in the country’s press overnight. In addition, another media outlet, A1 television, which also faces a tax levy, may have to cease its work in the coming weeks,” Mijatovic said.
“While media should follow rules set for all businesses, these outlets seem to have been targeted by the authorities in this case,” Mijatovic said. “I call on the Public Revenue Office to demonstrate maximum transparency in calculating the amount of tax debt for Plus Production and allow for a reasonable payment plan that will not hinder the work of media”.
A1 television channel and the three daily newspapers have been under investigation for alleged tax evasion and money laundering since late 2010. Their bank accounts have been frozen since 27 January 2011. The authorities have also confiscated several vehicles used for distribution of the newspapers. Together, they have been ordered to pay more than €10 million in back taxes. An instalment payment plan was rejected by the Public Revenue Office.
Mijatovic added: “Also of concern are the developments at the last remaining newspaper carrying opposition views, Utrinski Vesnik, which announced reductions in staff, triggering strikes last week.”
Several journalists who took part in the strike have lost their jobs since Friday.
Mijatovic reminded the responsible authorities that media pluralism is a prerequisite both in the fight against corruption, and in fostering the country’s democratization process. “Closing critical media never leads to political and economic stabilisation, but to stagnation and the loss of trust in governments and politicians,” she said.