‘Political Propaganda and the Plan to Create a “State for all Serbs”: Consequences of Using the Media for Ultra-Nationalist Ends’,a report compiled for the ICTY Prosecutor in the case against Slobodan Milošević by Renaud de la Brosse of the University of Reims, examines in detail the kind of propaganda that was used both to dehumanize victims and to marginalize domestic opposition to war. Here we reproduce two extracts from the report, relating to two cities subjected to protracted siege and destruction: Vukovar andSarajevo.
‘On 20 November 1991, as the siege of [the Croatian city of] Vukovar by the Federal Army and Serbian troops drew to a close [they had entered the city on 18 November], and at a time when the number of anti-war demonstrations in Belgrade was growing, a Reuters correspondent, Vjekoslav Radović, obtained information that 41 Serb children, aged between five and seven years, had been massacred in an elementary school in the village of Borovo Selo [on the outskirts of Vukovar.
Belgrade television would devote hours of viewing time to the unconfirmed news. Described for the first time in a war report, the story would later make the front page of the newspapers and be a lead story on the television news that evening. In a news programme specially devoted to events in Vukovar and Western Slavonia, the guest speaker was the freelance photographer, Goran Mikić, the first person to have reported the news. Photos of massacred adults were shown during the interview, but none of the massacred children. The next day, 21 November, a denial from the Federal Army, followed by one from Reuters, was made public as the follow-up to the news programme looking at the massacre was being shown - forcing the presenter to provide justification and apologize. Although quickly denied by Reuters, the story was given widespread coverage by the media controlled by the Belgrade regime, while the Reuters employee behind the story was fired - but purportedly later appointed New York correspondent for [Yugoslav News Agency] Tanjug. None of the journalists from these media questioned the authenticity of the information, though the children from the village, which had been besieged for several months, had been evacuated and no elementary school within the combat zone had been opened for a long time. The substantial media coverage given to the "death" of the 41 children "who had had their throats slit by blood-thirsty Croats" would serve to reinforce the image nurtured by the Serbian media of a"criminal and genocidal" Croatian people, just as it would undermine those who opposed the war and lead to a flood of fresh volunteers departing for the front.’
‘Another lie meant to feed the hatred of the enemy that was bandied about in the Serbian media concerned the allegation that the besieged Muslims of Sarajevo were feeding Serb children to the municipal zoo’s starving animals.
This fictitious piece of news carried by TV Pale and its presenter Risto Đogo, the voice of Radovan Karadžić’s regime, and also by the SRNA press agency, would be used by Tanjug and the media controlled by the Milošević regime without any checks being made. On its news, watched by several million viewers, TV Belgrade broke the news via a radio link with its correspondent on location in Sarajevo: "The Muslim extremists have come up with the world’s most horrible way of torturing people. Last night, they threw Serb children to the lions in the local zoo, says the Serb patrol."’