bosnia report
New Series No. 9/10 April - July 1999
Milosevic's independent media
by Kemal Kurspahic

Since the start of the NATO air strikes against Serbia I have had the opportu nity to meet, at lectures or in debates organised at American universities (Cor nell, William and Mary, Columbia, Johns Hopkins), several friends and acquaint ances, journalists and academics from Serbia, who - almost without exception - hold largely identical positions on the attacks of the Western alliance: they are hitting innocent civilians, strengthening Milosevic's regime, encouraging anti-Western feelings in Serbia, negating all attempts to establish a civil society and independent media.

Especially `offended and surprised' are those Serb intellectuals and journalists who believe that they themselves belonged to the `civic opposition' and `independent media'. `How do you, as a journalist, view the bombing of a media centre like Serbian TV?', asked a colleague who had fled Belgrade, during one such debate, in her attempt to express a supposed contradiction between my per sonal role in the defence of free public debate, at the time when the building of Oslobodenje was being bombed and destroyed in Sarajevo, and my understanding for NATO's action against Serbian television.

`First of all I sincerely feel sorry for every innocent victim of bombing, in cluding the night-shift workers who died as a result of the bombing,' I replied. `But your question contains a point which should be clarified: is Serbian television a media outfit? By definition the role of a media outfit is to spread information, while everything I know about that outfit is that over the past twelve years its primary mission has been to prevent the spread of information. It never informed the Serbian public about the crimes committed in its name, from Vukovar to Sarajevo and Srebrenica, nor did it ever present the evidence the whole world has seen about the genocidal deportation of the Albanians or about the crimes committed against them from Prekaz to RaÑak, presenting these events instead as a `legitimate struggle against Albanian terrorists'. Whence all that anti-Western sentiment and hysteria.'.

I also said that the use of the most brutal violence to impose its own TV pro gramme and prevent the viewing of others is nothing new for Serbian television. Even before the attack on Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the autumn of 1991, Serb para military forces seized by force the TV relay at Mrakovica and turned it towards Belgrade, so that the inhabitants of Bosanska KrÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ajina had to watch exclusively the programmes prepared by the Great Serb propaganda headquarters, while at the start of the aggression against Bosnia they used force to take the relay on Vlasic - with the same aim of imposing the Belgrade TV picture - on which occa sion they killed Bajram Zenuni, a technician working for Sarajevo television.

`NATO is right when it insists that Serbian television is a bastion of Milosevic's regime. It is this television which from 1987 on, together with the other media controlled by the regime, identified the Bosnian Muslims with the Turks of 600 years ago, and the Croats with the Ustashe of 50 years ago, and spread the paranoia about Serbs being an `endangered people' and about a `world conspiracy' against the Serbs, presenting all subsequent criminal acts as legitimate for defence of the national cause and for survival', I added - in or der to explain why I accept the Western explanation that we are dealing with an institution whose essential role has been to fan ethnic hatred and conflict, and to prevent the Serbian public from being informed about the reasons and aims of NATO intervention, in this way only prolonging the suffering of the very people which, as a national television, it ought to serve. My Belgrade interlocutors, when asking questions from the floor or in conversation following my talks, were offended in particular by my insistence that the West should not feel guilty for the alleged silencing of the Serbian opposition or independent media: `There has never been any real opposition to the Great Serb policy, while the media were independent only to the extent that suited Milosevic.', I told a meeting at Co lumbia University in New York. `How can you say that, when so much effort was invested in the creation of a network of independent electronic media, which functioned until it was silenced by the NATO bombing?', a colleague from Bel grade asked me. `Easily, dear lady', I replied, ` because I believe the whole idea of a number of independent media operating within a totalitarian society is contrary to plain logic. Milosevic permitted the existence of certain somewhat more civilised media, with a short range, to the extent that this helped him to show foreign visitors that pluralism and democracy existed in Serbia; and when he decided to close them up, it was enough for a group of students to walk into Studio B92 and say: `Enough, this now belongs to us!'

Kemal Kurspahic was editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodenje during much of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This text appeared in Svijet (Sarajevo), 9 May 1999


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