The media

What is the role of the media during the war in the Balkans?

The media

The print media made its debut in the 17th century with Europe, taking the lead in having the first sustained production of newspapers. Soon its potential as mass communicator was realized. It was used both as an informer as well as a propagator. What was born essentially to separate factual and objective information was also used to misinform an disinform, to control and manipulate news, and to shape and mould public opinion also by propaganda.

It emerged as an powerful weapon to influence public opinion and to rule the people through manipulations. In the last century when it came to be reinforced by the electronic media, first by radio and then by television channels, the media by itself became an all-influential institution of society even more effective than the state.

This mighty an all-pervasive power of the media was successfully used, in conflict situations, by vested interest to serve their purpose, benevolent or malevolent. Fortunately, for both the media and the public, the technological advances during the mid 90's and the increasing globalization of news reporting mean that the news reports can now be transmitted live to a bunch of international news networks. In this new environment the control of such a media product is realistically not possible.

From 1912 -1914, the Slovenian public showed great interest and followed the war closely in the Balkans. Extensive reports on the First an Second Balkan Wars and on the founding of the independent state of Albania were published by all Slovenian newspapers and magazines in circulation at the time. The radical Dan (1912-1914) was the only daily in Slovenia which, similar to several other European satirical papers and daily newspapers, published a series of political cartoons on the theme of the Balkan wars. These cartoons made up a large percentage of all the political cartoons published in the Dan during this time, and were published along with a number of satirical poems by Dan editorial board in April 1913 in a special issue entitled: "The Balkan War in Caricature and Verse". In 1914, the same newspaper also devotted a great deal of attention to the changes taking place in Albania in its satirical supplement entitled The Thistle. The cartoons in the Dan and The Thistle were drawn by Maksim Gaspari, France Podrekar, Vladimir Görtner, Janko Omahen, Lojze Dolinar and others. Many of these cartoons are based on prejudices and stereotypes. This phenomenon can be seen in all European satirical newspapers at this time. Of course, the role of negative heroes has been changed depending on the respective countries: in Slovenian newspapers we can see the stereotypes especially on the representation of Turks and Albanians, while in Austrian or German satirical newspapers this role belongs to the Serbs. In extreme situations we can also find the positive stereotypes on those political, ethnical and other groups and personalities, which are considered as alliances.

Maksim Gaspari's cartoon "The Turkish hawk and the Balkan falcon" represents both sides with help of simplified personifications: the hawk for Turkey and the falcon for the Balkan alliance. Because of their strong impact on the popular subconscious the political cartoons were irreplaceable in the political and propaganda struggle. The formation of negative stereotypes or prejudices about The Balkan nations we can find also in west European newspapers from the Berlin congress until the First World War. Under the influence of western newspapers the satirical newspapers were copied also in Turkey in the late 19th century until the end of the Balkan wars. The negative stereotypes concern the Balkan alliance.

he title page from the booklet The Balkan War in Caricature/Political Cartoons/ and Verse, published as Dan's supplement in the year 1913, 12th April. In the cartoon is a long-haired man, representing the terrible power which is destroying the Turkish capital Istanbul. The cartoon by an unknown author was published for the first time in Dan, no. 395,under the title "Revolution in Carigrad/Istanbul". The easiest explanation for this cartoon is that the young man represents the power of Balkan countries.

American Media and the war in the Balkans

It was not only a war over some territory in Europe, but also a war by CNN, recorded by an extensive international press corps and projected to the world by global telecommunication systems. Bosnia was not only in Europe but also in European, American and other international living rooms. It was consequently a widely distributed geopolitical sign, a sign value of instability and ethnic warfare that the U.S and NATO eventually needed to confront and control. A key process in producing Bosnia, as a "strategic sign" was the role of the global media in making it a visible and significant war. Despite the often-considerable risks to reporters, Bosnia attracted the Western press because it was a story of war between outwardly similar white Europeans unfolding in a relatively prosperous and familiar environment. Sarajevo was a modern European city, which had hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984. Many Europeans who had vacationed there knew the former Yugoslav region. The Bosnian civil war slowly became a metaphor of Europe's violent past, recalling the origins of World War I and the dictatorship during World War II, and its uncertain future. The story of the Bosnian war was not only physically close to the West but also psychologically. Furthermore, during the administration of Bush, the Balkan Wars were projected as a 'dangerous cancer" that needed to be checked and cleared out. Back in 1992 the then U.S Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger described the wars in the former Yugoslavia as a "cancer in the heart of Europe". This image of Bosnia as an cancer was a powerful one that enabled it to 'jump scale' and become an obvious sign of illness in the global politic.

Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office, told ISN Security watch that so far they had found some eight examples of instances in which the media could have provoked war crimes and that these could be used should the investigation reached the court. He said that the Prosecutor's Office had taken the wartime archives from Serbian national television, RTS. Vekaric said his team had "several examples" of reporting in which "lies" could be linked to strong reactions among people that led to killing someone "just because they saw on television or read in the newspaper about something that had nothing to do with the reality". One of those examples is false reporting by the government-controlled media on the murder of Serb civilians in Croatia in 1991.

Just days before the Vukovar killings, the Serbian media had told on the news that Croatian forces had murdered over 40 Serb children, from the ages four to seven, in a primary school in Borovo Selo, near Vukovar. This story was first reported by Reuters correspondent Vjekoslav Radovic, who claimed that he had seen the bodies of at least 40 small children in the school basement. The news rapidly spread among Serbian media, while RTS aired the all- night program on this issue, hosting witnesses claiming that they also had seen the bodies. An RTS journalist even questioned a Croat teenager held by Serb paramilitary forces, pressuring him to admit to the murders. Though RTS later declared that the information about this accident was false and all witnesses changed their statements to say that they had only seen a dozen closed body bags, which could have contained the bodies of the Croats. The information had done its damage and was absorbed by Serbs willing to join the paramilitary groups in a campaign of revenge.

When Vukovar fell to the Serbs, paramilitaries seized the prisoners, taking some 200 of them to a pig farm in Ovcara, where they were beaten, tortured and then killed. Their bodies were later found in mass graves. Vekaric said that the prosecution was also analyzing statements given by some of those accused or convicted of war crimes. One witness, a Serb paramilitary volunteer, testified during the Vukovar trial that he had joined Serb paramilitary forces in Croatia after watching a news program in Serbia. He confessed to have been participating in the murder of 200 people in Ovcara after seeing stories in Serbian media about crimes committed by Croatian forces against Serb civilians. "I watched the program, and then I went out and gave the Croats what they deserved," he testified.

Elusive evidence

It will be a difficult job for prosecutors to establish firm links between war time reporting and war crimes, and the challenge of proving that journalists intentionally provoked cruel and violent actions will most likely go free.

Moreover, many of those wartime reporters and editors remain public figures, some working in media as writers, columnists and trainer of a younger generation of reporters, while others are professors and even ambassadors.

The initiative of the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution should be viewed as an excellent example for prosecutors from other former Yugoslavia republics, primarily Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, where the majority of wartime reporters could also be held to account for violating journalism ethics and provoking further violence, just as their Serbian colleagues.

Excerpts fromformer Yugoslavwartime media:

-"It seems that Muslim extremists invented the most horrific crime on the planet. Last night they fed Serb children to the lionat the Sarajevo Zoo." RTS broadcasted this story in 1992 by their Bosnian correspondent, Rada Djokic, after a tipoff from Bosnian Serb frontline-soldiers.

-"Muslims are still in Makarska." Bosnian Croat Smiljko Sagolj reported this for Croatian television after many Bosnians sought refuge in the Croatian resort town after the start of the Bosniak-Croat war. One day after the story was broadcasted, a bomb exploded in a Bosnian refugee camp near Makarska.

-"Every Muslim should pick a Serb to kill when the time comes." A Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) journalist wrote this in the magazine "Zmaj od Bosne," which is associated with the ruling Bosnian Party for Democratic Action (SDA).

-"Turk women claim that we rape them, but just recently in a refugee camp one of the rape victims gave birth to a black child." Bosnian Serb anchor Risto Djogo saidduring aSerb Television (SRT) news broadcast.

-"In my hand I am holding gold teeth. I was told that Croat criminals are pulling them out of Serb civilians." An RTS correspondent stated this during the Vukovar battle. In the same story, he interviewed an older Serb civilian.

RTS broadcasted afeature with the following dialogue:

Reporter: Do you have an example that they [Croats] killed someone, cut his throat, or similar examples of such crimes?

Interviewee: I left earlier, I didn't see such things, but I heard from others that there was torturing.

Reporter: Like what?

Interviewee: Well, slaughtering, they were cutting off fingers, pulling fingernails off children...we have found children in pots ready to be baked. We discovered beheaded soldiers...

Reporter: They have no mercy for anyone, do they?

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