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Cablegate: Djukanovic Wins Libel Judgment Against Montenegro Daily

VZCZCXRO1775
RR RUEHBW RUEHPOD
DE RUEHPOD #0154/01 1441047
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 231047Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY PODGORICA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0804
INFO RUEHTI/AMEMBASSY TIRANA 0119
RUEHBW/AMEMBASSY BELGRADE 0367
RUEHVB/AMEMBASSY ZAGREB 0158
RUEHVJ/AMEMBASSY SARAJEVO 0090
RUEHPOD/AMEMBASSY PODGORICA 0889

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PODGORICA 000154

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KPAO MW
SUBJECT: DJUKANOVIC WINS LIBEL JUDGMENT AGAINST MONTENEGRO DAILY
VIJESTI

REF: A. A. PODGORICA 24
B. B. 2007 PODGORICA 317
C. C. 2007 PODGORICA 288

1. SUMMARY: (U) On May 19, Podgorica's Basic Court found
Zeljko Ivanovic, director of the daily paper Vijesti, and "Daily
Press," Vijesti's publisher, guilty of defaming PM Milo
Djukanovic and fined them 20,000 euros. Djukanovic had sued,
asking for one million euros compensation for his "damaged
dignity" when the paper claimed he was behind an attack on
Ivanovic in September 2007 (ref A). The verdict has prompted
strong criticism from press freedom advocates. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) On September 1, 2007, Zeljko Ivanovic, director of the
Podgorica daily Vijesti, was assaulted by three persons in
central Podgorica (ref A). Ivanovic told reporters he believed
the attack was undertaken at the behest of Milo Djukanovic, then
leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), in
retaliation for Vijesti's negative coverage of alleged
corruption and mafia influence in the party. (Specifically,
Ivanovic said he believed that Djukanovic and his "criminal or
biological family" were behind the attack.) In an editorial,
Vijesti also claimed Montenegro was a country "where the mafia
and government are intertwined to the point of being
unrecognizable, where the political leadership and mafia
henchmen are often on the same level, where smuggling is the
basis for the value system and honest work and justice are
mocked." On September 12, Djukanovic filed a lawsuit against
Ivanovic, Ljubisa Mitrovic, the newspaper's editor in chief, and
Daily Press, its publisher, for one million euros in
compensation for his "damaged dignity and mental suffering."

3. (U) Vijesti's owners said the lawsuit was Djukanovic's
attempt to suppress freedom of expression. The assault on
Ivanovic occurred on the tenth anniversary of the paper's
founding; Ivanovic was not seriously injured, suggesting that
his attackers were more interested in delivering a message than
hurting him. Vijesti had also said they were planning an
independent TV station (opened this month), and implied this
might be another reason to intimidate them.

4. (U) The libel trial opened on November 26, 2007. The defense
lawyers requested that the president of the court disqualify the
judge from the trial because of his partiality towards the
plaintiff after the judge rejected their request that Djukanovic
appear in the court and undergo a medical examination to prove
his mental suffering. The judgment was announced on May 19,
2008. Part of the lawsuit directed against the Editor-in-Chief
of Vijesti was rejected by the Court.

COMMENT

---------------

5. (SBU) The verdict, while it will be appealed, has raised the
hackles of press freedom advocates in Montenegro. The speed
with which the case made its way through Montenegro's
notoriously lethargic judicial system looks to some like special
consideration, and the 20,000 Euro fine, while less than
requested, is high (the usual fine for slander is up to 14,000
Euros; the average salary here is less than 400 Euros per
month). Journalists already tell us that there is a very strong
perception that covering certain topics, particularly crime and
corruption, will get them into trouble. They see connections
between reporting and physical intimidation or violence in a
number of cases (there have been no convictions in the October
2006 attack on Jevrem Brkovic, a prominent writer, in which the
attackers killed Brkovic's bodyguard, nor in the 2004 murder of
Dan's editor). More often, however, perceived intimidation is
in the form of a court action.

6. (SBU) It is true that Vijesti has taken an increasingly
anti-DPS line, including during the recent Presidential election
campaign when many observers concluded the paper appeared to
favor opposition candidate Nebojsa Medojevic against incumbent
President and DPS member Filip Vujanovic. Vijesti has also
faced some controversy. The paper's German co-owners WAZ sold
their shares late last year amidst allegations that the local
owners were engaging in tax fraud and unsubstantiated and

PODGORICA 00000154 002 OF 002


unprofessional reporting (ref B). WAZ may or may not have also
had a partisan point of view, however. They suggested Vijesti's
editors were carrying out a "vendetta" against the DPS and
Djukanovic.
MOORE

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