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B92 Interview

Updated Wednesday 1st March 2006

Find out how the Internet aided transmission during the Milosevic regime, in this interview with Sasa Mirkovic, Director of B92.

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Do you think that B92 played a major part in the downfall of Milosevic, and if so, how?
B92 along with all other independent and professional media outlets greatly contributed to the downfall of Milosevic. However, we were different from the others, as we are not an ordinary media outlet but rather an umbrella institution which comprised various activities which in turn contributed to bringing people to their senses that Milosevic's fall was inevitable. The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) also played a crucial role in informing people, as it broadcast news programmes and other shows of B92 production, thus contributing to better distribution of information throughout Serbia, and this only accelerated Milosevic's ousting. It is enough just to mention that most of the energetic and resolute protesters that came to Belgrade on October 5, on the day of the fall of Milosevic's regime, were the people from the cities where our programmes were being rebroadcast through their local stations!

How did technology help you keep track of his arrest?
I think that technology was not so significant in the matter of arresting Milosevic, as much as the credibility of B92 as a professional and independent media outlet. This means that we were virtually the last radio station to which Milosevic gave a short interview from his own house several hours before arrest. Also, we were the first media that reported about Milosevic's transport to the Hague. We got this information from the people in the ruling circles due to our 13 years of dedicated professionalism, right from the date when B92 was founded. The only technology that we used were mobile telephone services...

When the government closed down the transmitter in 1996, what did you do?
Back then, the internet was not as widely used as nowadays. At the moment we were unable to broadcast the radio signal regularly, we started sending our audio signal via the internet in Real Audio format. At the time, it was a kind of technological revolution, especially in this part of the world. The signal was then picked by the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle... so the ban proved to be senseless, as well as counter productive, as overnight, apart from Belgrade audiences, we gained new listeners throughout the country, due to the transmissions of the radio stations that rebroadcast our programmes. This ban lasted for 51 hours, and afterwards, the authorities claimed cynically that "the water got into coaxial cable inside of our transmitter".

 
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What was the role of the Internet?
B92 was the first internet provider in our country. We started working in 1995, and at first we focused on giving free services and hosting to NGOs and independent media. The internet played a crucial technological role in establishing the Association of Independent Electronic Media...

How did you do it? What did the process involve?
B92's audio signal was transmitted through the internet to London and the server and satellite of BBC World Service. Then they rebroadcast our signal via satellite, and ANEM affiliates (dozens of stations all over the country) received the signal via satellite receivers. Thus, we evaded the obstructions of the regime which did not allow us to spread our signal within Serbia, so we were forced to do it via London.

How many people were listening to you at that time?
It is really hard to speak of the exact figures, but it is a fact that our network covered more than 2/3 of the whole territory of Serbia. Our network was the second largest one, right after the State Radio and Television Network. However, I think that we are talking about the figure of over a million listeners of our news programmes.

What do you think is the role of the Internet in times of social change?
The role of the internet is large primarily because the Internet presents the symbol of connecting to the world and civilisation of the country that was isolated for a decade. In the period of ten years in question, many things have changed, the world made large progress, thus the technological gap was created between our country and the rest of the world which could be compensated by Internet usage, especially as the younger generation is particularly using the internet. This generation has suffered a lot and lost so much time during the sanctions, isolation and bombing of our country.

Do you think that the Web increases political interest in younger people?
It is difficult to speak about this having in mind the number of computers and people using the internet. The reason for it is our low standard of living, bad telephone connections, etc. I am inclined to think that the Internet made it possible for our people living abroad to take an active role in political events in our country. Those are people who want to get back to the country once, and in that sense the Internet is one of the best connections with the homeland.

 
B92's Web Page Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

What is B92 doing now?
B92 is currently the most listened to radio station in Belgrade. Our television is getting more and more popular, we are fourth in Belgrade, and seventh in Serbia. We have many problems with acquiring frequencies and the reduced territory of coverage. We are right now preparing for moving to a new location where we could unite all our various activities. We have launched the process of privatisation as well, expecting to finalise it in the next several months. We also hope that we are going to solve the problem of frequencies as soon as possible, as it is the precondition for surviving and obtaining the means for normal living.

Have B92 had any success in helping other causes? What do you feel your role is now in Serbia?
Serbia is a country in transition, with a very tumultuous past. When I say that I am referring to war conflicts and all other tragedies which the war brings with it. B92 is one of the rare media outlets opening the issues of facing the past, and thus we are dealing with so many problems which I have previously mentioned. We are actively contributing to the democratisation of the society, as we consider that strengthening of the professional media and non-governmental organisations presents the best foundation for establishing institutions of an open, free and civil society we intend to become.

Do you have a big audience outside Serbia?
We are closely following the results of the number of visitors of our web site, and we have no equals in that department, when the news websites are in question, within our region. Thus, I conclude that among the Internet users we are very popular as a source of information. Besides, B92 is being cited very often, and it is present in media sphere and in the contacts with the audience.

Are these people who fled Serbia at the time, or do you appeal to people who have been gone for some time?
The largest number of our consumers abroad are those who moved for a while or forever abroad. Democratic changes in our country have inspired people lately to come back, but it is still a small number of people compared to the number of those who fled.

Do people from Serbia listen in London, for example?
Of course they do.

Since the Well Connected team visited you last year, how has the situation in Serbia changed?
The standard is getting better gradually, there are investments in our country... There are discouraging things as well, such as political conflicts within a ruling coalition which distracts them and waste their energy...

What future uses will you have for the internet - will your use of it expand?
We will try through introducing subscription for the English Service to cover basic expenses, thus reaching self sustainability of our website. That is not going to be easy to achieve, especially having in mind that the market here is still weak, so that the idea of advertising via the website is rather in its initial stage. Nevertheless, I am optimistic, hoping for a better future...

 

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