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Date: Tue, 4 May 1999 13:03:31 +0900
To: Multiple recipients of NETSOURCE-L <netsource-l@mail.think.service>
From: Hendrik
Subject: [NS] Europe: media silence on Serbian opposition


When Western Television Silences the "Other Serbia"

Nafsika Papanikolatos
Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group - Greece
(30/4/1999, AIM Athens)

In the weeks since the beginning of NATO strikes an overview of major
Western media sources leaves one quite uncomfortable by the almost complete
or superficial information concerning the consequences of the strikes on
Serbia. In contrast, there is an overflow of information on the undoubtedly
tragic and unacceptable daily exodus of thousands of Kosovo Albanians who
are forced to flee to the neighboring states. This of course is most
remarkably noticeable in the electronic media. But television has after all
the power to reach and to influence the greatest number of persons and
therefore holds the greatest responsibility in making a balanced
presentation.

An enticing example was the conspicuous silence about an important event,
which reveals the previously authoritarian and, now in war conditions,
totalitarian character of the Milosevic regime: the near complete lack of
coverage of the sad and disturbing news of Slavko Curuvija's murder outside
his home by two men wearing dark clothes and face masks. The murder of the
publisher of Dnevni Telegraph, critical of the Milosevic regime, was simply
no news for western electronic media on 11 April. Hour after hour, CNN, BBC
World, Sky News, and, in the evening FR3 did not even allocate 20 seconds
to inform their audience of the event; while, time after time, for example,
they covered the capture and humiliating parade in Serb media of an
Australian humanitarian worker, certainly an appalling story but of lesser
magnitude than the murder of a Serb independent publisher. The latter
immediately drew an avalanche of protest statements by a dozen
international and regional NGOs, As the International Federation of
Journalists (IFJ) explained in its statement: "There are many others like
him still working in FRY. Without them the Yugoslav population would not
have had any information from a non-governmental perspective. We are very
concerned that as the tension rises in the country, attacks against Serbian
journalists will increase." Even after these reactions, the murder remained
no news for these television stations.

Nonetheless western electronic media do not hesitate to bombard us with
voices from Serbia. Voices though which help legitimize in the West the
strikes since they present an image of a society drowned by nationalist
passions and anti-democratic sentiments. "Watching BBC I have the
impression that they seem to select on purpose Serbs who defend Serbia in a
clumsy propagandist and extremist way that can only please other Serbs but
not the average Western viewer," said a good friend and human rights
defender still living somewhere in FRY (hence the anonymity requirement).
The same is true for the other electronic media mentioned before. This is
symptomatic of an alarming bias these media have shown since the beginning
of NATO strikes. The voices or even the fate of Serbian genuine NGOs and/or
independent media (with the exception of a few minutes for Radio B92's
closure) are of no concern.

Prime Minister Tony Blair accused John Simpson, BBC's main war
correspondent in Belgrade, for presenting Serbian propaganda about the
damages incurred by NATO air-strikes and for simplifying the truth by
presenting that this conflict in fact strengthened Milosevic. As he
recently explained in an interview to Greek television, the British
government did not want to hear about the consequences that the air strikes
had on Serbia itself. And he added, that he ought to have been now in
Kosovo, but since Serb authorities do not allow him to go there, "in
Belgrade my duty is not to present what either the Serb regime or NATO
would like to hear, but to become the eyes and the ears of BBC world
viewers." (Mega Channel, 28 April).

Belgraders are shown merely in a naive frenzy of patriotic singing and
dancing every night in the Square of the Republic while Serbia appears to
be a homogenous society, with no individuals, no opposition, and no
democratic rights' culture. At the same time, there is an almost complete
absence of information on the new decrees and laws such like the one issued
on 9 April by the Serb Ministry of Internal Affairs. That law transformed
overnight this authoritarian state into a totalitarian one, permitting
state authorities to limit the movement or detain for longer than 24 hours
a person who is "disturbing public order and peace" or "profiteering with
food." Henceforth, people can be sent away in detention if state
authorities feel they are dangerous for the security of the Republic,
apartments can be searched and mail can be opened. At the same time, while
the large majority of the Serbian population ignores the existence of
Kosovo Albanian refugees being displaced by the thousands daily, Western
audiences have rarely been informed on the tens of thousands of Serb
refugees, who were forced to leave because their relations with the regime
were already difficult and now in a state of war have become impossible or
those who happen to live near possible targets.

Western electronic media has also ignored half a dozen statements made by
representatives of civil society. Perhaps because it would have been
disturbing for Western audiences to hear that the committed democratic and
pro-Western forces are opposing the strikes and feel that the latter had as
"collateral damage" the destruction of what was a just emerging civil
society. Their statements are distributed through Internet, the last
resource they have to communicate to the West, and never seem to reach any
western electronic media, since they do not conform to the logic of a
homogeneous Serb society embroiled in its nationalist passions and ethnic
cleansing projects. Thus the western audiences have little possibility to
find out about the other Serbia which struggled for at least the last ten
years against the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. "In the long
run", as a prominent representative of the human rights movement in
Belgrade explains, "the biggest collateral damage will be the shattered
possibilities for democracy in Serbia. () The air strikes erased in one
night the results of ten years of hard work of groups of courageous people
in the non-governmental organizations and in the democratic opposition, who
have not tried to "topple" anyone but to develop the institutions of civil
society, to promote liberal and civic values, to teach non-violent conflict
resolution."

On 6 April seventeen Belgrade NGOs issued a statement. It recalled their
courageous struggle both against war and nationalist propaganda, their
support of human rights, their struggle against the repression of Kosovo
Albanians, the necessity to respect their liberties and guarantees for
their rights, and the return of autonomy of Kosovo. They also stressed that
only through civil society institutions any connection and cooperation was
ever preserved between Albanians and Serbs. And, now all this has been
undermined by NATO military action, endangering the very survival of the
civil sector in Serbia. They made suggestions for stopping the war and
establishing conditions for the resumption of the democratic process that
was underway. An appeal was made to the Serb and also to the international
media to inform the public in a professional manner and not spur media war,
incite interethnic hatred, create irrational public opinion and glorify
force as the ultimate accomplishment of the human mind. On 16 April, we
another statement signed by twenty-seven democratically minded
intellectuals from Serbia asked that civility prevails. It mentioned ethnic
cleansing, the displacement of Albanians from Kosovo, Kosovo Liberation
Army's violence that is targeted against Serbs, moderate Albanians and
other ethnic communities in Kosovo, the destruction of the economic and
cultural foundations of Yugoslav society, the destabilization of Southern
Balkans, the reinforcement of the regime by NATO attacks, the weakening of
the democratic forces in Serbia and the threats against the reformist
government of Montenegro. With the exception of a few Western newspapers,
these courageous and very meaningful texts went unnoticed. A false
impression has thus been created that there is no civil society and no
critics of the regime left in Serbia which is misleading the western
audiences and hiding a possible democratic and anti-nationalist alternative
for the Serbs themselves

Lack of coverage of how this third sector lives the strikes and how they
are afraid that an "incident" like the Curuvija one may be what is in line
for them only makes these people even more vulnerable, as they have been
repeatedly threatened, individually or collectively, to be punished as
traitors. Moreover, those journalists and activists that the West was
heralding before but has now forgotten feel almost betrayed by the
international community, which is shaped so decisively by the dominant
electronic media. If only to confirm these fears of Western censorship, the
Serb NGOs (20 this time) alerted international community on 26 April that
they may lose their only link with the West, the Internet connection. Their
statement is eloquent.

"We, the representatives of the Yugoslav civil society, coming together to
protest NATO bombing and ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia now have to deal
with another problem that could uncouple us from the world and practically
forbid our free expression and dissent.
One threat is coming from Yugoslav government agencies and the controlled
domestic INTERNET providers. For them it is important to shut up all
independent voices for which reason they banned the radio B92 and put under
control other independent media.
For NATO it appears important to cut off all dissenting people and groups
from Yugoslavia in order to maintain the image of Yugoslav society as if it
is totally controlled by Milosevic regime and made only of extreme
nationalists who deserve punishment by bombs. For us who are long time
activists of human rights, minority rights, union rights, free press
rights, women rights, peace and democracy activists, it is vital to
maintain Internet connection to the world in order to get information and
communicate with people about our situation. We are using INTERNET with
respect to the netiquette and urge all Yugoslav users to avoid hostile and
insulting vocabulary. We also pledge to all our international contact
people to exercise their influence on INTERNET public opinion to avoid
aggressive language and hatespeech in correspondences to people in
Yugoslavia.

PLEASE HELP US TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH THE WORLD!"

If international electronic media want to truly stand up to the freedom it
enjoys it must turn its eyes and its ears to these voices. And if we really
want a democratic Yugoslavia because we want a democratic Europe it is
about time that we use every means that democratic societies provide us
with to support the democratic voices of Yugoslavia, without which there
cannot be a future for democracy in Kosovo, in Serbia or, possibly,
anywhere else in the Balkans.

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Greece
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67
e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.SPAMTRAP.gr
http://www.greekhelsinki.gr

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