THE RACAK CASE IN THE BELGRADE MEDIA
Belgrade, February 1999
A detailed analysis of the media treatment of the Racak case indicates serious regression in the FRY independent media, which in previous periods, under much more difficult conditions, managed to preserve not only their own position and status, but also their moral integrity. In the past years journalists were most consistent advocates and protagonists of democratic ideas by boldly opposing the regime, seriously treating relevant information and engaging in a competent research and analytical journalism. At the same time they represented the most serious resistance group to the regime in the years when Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered the worst stages of ethnic-cleansing and genocide and nationalistic hysteria and hatred dominated all territories of former Yugoslavia. But the current journalistic production is a far cry from the earlier one. Since the opening of the Kosovo issue, the independent media treated this primary political issue of the Serbian political life almost in the same way as the regime-controlled media. Hence the former, in a very irresponsible way, adjusted to the media scheme engineered by the authorities, in order to preserve their own position in the period after the signing of the Kosovo agreement. Consequently, since the last fall, the independent media stopped articulating the public interest, something which they more or less successfully did at the outset of the crisis.
As the number of dailies increased ("sickness" of transition), journalistic potential split and became fragmented, which ultimately hurt an already wobbly profession. When many editors became aware of the advantages of international donations, they started abandoning their papers and launching the new ones. But the new ones failed to reach the standards of the old ones, although they tried hard to eliminate them as rivals. Examples: Nasa Borba-Danas, Blic-Glas javnosti.
All this resulted in a drastical reduction of quality of daily information. Hence, in order to be properly informed one needs to read several papers. Both readers and journalists are dissatisfied. But as there are thousands of unemployed journalists and nobody is trying to help them, not even the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, the employed ones are 'happy' to get their salaries.
International organizations, donors above all, have many reasons to reassess the work of the independent media, to analyze their wrong calculations and the fact that they allowed local lobbies, motivated by personal, rather than group interests, to influence them.
In the light of the aforementioned it was logical that weakened and fragmented media failed to respond in an adequate way to the most violent crackdown of the authorities, strategically planned and executed at the end of Holbrooke-Milosevic negotiations and signing of the agreement, which resulted in the decrees on the closing down of dailies Nasa Borba, Danas, Dnevni Telegraf. Decrees were followed by the enforcement of the Information Act which made already weakened dailies even more marginal and provincial. Nasa Borba is not published any longer, but as on the media market there is no adequate replacement to it, the authorities can smoothly dictate the rules of conduct in the printed media sphere.
When the sequence of events led to the emergence of the Kosovo issue the topmost leadership of the SRY and Serbia orchestrated the media campaign in order to prepare public at large for the future developments, that is to ensure its own survival. Long-standing, persistent national homogenization on the Vidovdan (Kosovo) myth has greatly sensitized voters.
While working out the strategy it was established that it was desirable to form the government of national unity. It came into being on March 1998, when the Radical Party members entered the power structures. Since then the media focus was on Kosovo, as "the uppermost issue of all Serbian issues." Namely both the state-controlled and para-state media centered on the governments' activities related to Kosovo.
When the Radical Party and the Serbian Renewal Movement joined the government it helped the regime simulate the allegedly general support for its Kosovo policy and the settlement of the crisis. The most powerful media in Serbia, notably the Radio-Television Serbia every day articulates the non-existing joint stand of all strata of society on the resolution of the current crisis and depict the ruling elite as the most competent and serious part of the society. Time slots in the news broadcasts and other information/current affairs programs are given only to those politicians who fit this scheme, while the others are evaded. For example the media simulate that the national unity government ensured general consensus of all relevant political factors on all key issues. Thus the created image is the one of a homogenous society without confrontations and differences. By extension this homogeneity means massive support to authorities who competently rule the country under conditions of complex relations with powerful and anti-Serb international community. In this way all different opinions and even ideas about forming a political alternative are eliminated. The state and national interests must have priority over any particular or group interest. Hence President of Independent Trade Unions of Serbia, Tomislav Banovic, advised the educational professionals not to strike, as "the eve of the Rambuieu Conference is not the right time for strike." In other words Kosovo problem is the most serious problem with which the society is faced, and the entire social potential should be engaged in efforts to solve this problem.
At the same time extremely anti-American footage is being broadcast (the US being the key player in the resolution of the Kosovo crisis), which stimulates the other party to prolong the isolation of the country.
In this scheme of things the Kosovo crisis is depicted as a consequence of terrorist and criminal activities of Shiptari terrorists which threaten both the past and future of the country. That strategic orientation was confirmed by all the state-controlled media (both the print and electronic ones) in their treatment of the village Racak case.
But what is happening with the independent media, notably, dailies?
A certain degree of professionalism was achieved in the information pages, because some papers used to cover Kosovo developments from both the Serbian and Kosovar angle. But some independent media, alike their state-controlled counterparts, in that second angle included the opinions and statements of international community, widely considered "an ally of Shiptari." In the Racak case, William Walker was criticized for siding with "the terrorists." "By uttering many lies and faking the facts he blamed our state bodies for the massacre, and once again tried to protect terrorists, kidnappers, and murderers." (President of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, Vecernje novosti, 17 January 1999).
All independent media ran original or re-told agency stories about the Racak case, as well as about other Kosovo developments. But there was an evident lack of editorial effort to research, analyze and establish the genuine facts. Unlike in the past there were no analytical texts which could have contributed to the elucidation of the case. If the first oversight can be justified by lack of correspondents or journalists on the ground, there is hardly any justification for the second one. In actual fact the second 'oversight' could have been intentional. Namely many editorial boards, intimidated by strict enforcement of the Information Act, have opted for middle-of-the-road concepts of Kosovo crisis coverage and presentation.
The absence of the media support to some moves of international representatives, which could have a long-term bearing on reconciliation in Kosovo and establishment of stability, is also symptomatic of the above trend. This also applies to Walker's appeal that Yugoslav, that is Serbian authorities, should name and punish perpetrators of the Racak crime.
There was no adequate response to the Skopje statement of the Hague prosecutor, Louise Arbour, after her abortive attempt to cross the Yugoslav border: "I do not know who is responsible for the Racak massacre, but I know who is impeding investigation." News coverage of this event was ample.
In all print and electronic media the Kosovo Liberation Army was quoted as "so-called KLA", as well as "separatist and terrorist organization." Not a single medium tried to analyze the reasons underlying the emergence of this organization and its actions.
News are placed and presented with great inconsistency and confusion (particularly on the front-pages). In that sense most inconsistent is daily Danas. The SENSA agency news on the Hague Tribunal-NATO cooperation, after the session of the NATO Council, was headlined "How many divisions Louise Arbour has" (19 January). The text than explained the stupidity of the headline, but the latter was nonetheless bannered.
On 19 January Danas also ran a front-page story headlined -CIA uses Walker to provoke the NATO intervention-. At the same time the statement of Melissa Fleming - "Walker is not partial"-was presented with quotation marks.
Glas javnosti plainly imitated the state-controlled media when its editor-in-chief, in his commentary, accused Walker of the lack of criteria. Something similar happened in the Radio B 92 interview with Walker, when the radio's interviewer (in his tone and manner of asking questions) demonstrated that he more interested in expressing his "patriotic standpoint" than in probing for information relevant to the Racak case.
In the Racak case independent media somehow fitted in the state-run media scheme, which excludes all those media which do not back efforts of the ruling coalition: hence the independent media had no coverage of the Albanian opinions and analysis of the Racak case. These media only occasionally ran statements of Kosovars related to the negotiating process.
The most salient example of the above is daily Blic which, within its medley of news also sells serious political information in the shape which is most suited to the large public, as proved by its 200,000 copies circulation. In comparison with other papers, Blic's coverage of the Racak case was highly informative. This daily also showed the right instinct to immediately establish the necessary distance. The most illustrative example of the above was its coverage of the press conference at which Vice Presidents of the Serbian government, Markovic, Seselj and Bojic accused the CIA of trying to financially organize the toppling of the regime in Serbia. While Danas ran a straightforward front-page story about the event, Blic on that very day had a complete information that a 'notorious' document was not the CIA paper, but the one published by the Institute for Peace. This article indicated the true motives behind the Government's move. Added to that the paper provided most relevant information on the Racak case.
Motivated by an unhidden ambition to be the spokesmen of so-called Third Serbia, some independent media go to great lengths to avoid irritating the official or the regime's versions of Kosovo developments. This means that they are not bent on providing the necessary information. In fact they act like political parties on the eve of elections. Hence they abandon the position of the "consciousness of people" and start pursuing their own political project. This has happened to Radio B 92, which despite substantive financial backing has a very poor program- only two, 30 min. long informative, i.e. news programs a day. Its critical tone has become very sophisticated, and 90% of broadcasting time are dedicated to musical programs. Coverage of Kosovo developments is rather biased and full of 'patriotic' tone. One of the most indicative examples of the above is the aforementioned interview with W. Walker regarding the Racak case.
Listeners of this radio still have not been told whether the highly important program of the Radio Free Europe, dedicated the current events on the entire ex-Yu territory, will be aired again. From the radio-station which aspires to be the leader in the information field (in the 21st century) such a move is justifiably expected.
The case of Dnevni Telegraf illustrates amply the situation in the field of the independent media. Namely this daily aspires to be the indisputable leader of all independent media, although it has never been truly independent. To date not a single text was written on how much S. Curuvija's (the paper's editor-in-chief) falling out with Mira Markovic contributed to the regime's hard crackdown on independent media, and to the passing of the Information Act.
The analysis of the media, notably the independent ones, clearly indicates that in recent months the differences between the "patriotic" and "anti-war" sections of society have grown smaller. The latter abandons its original positions, and asks nor more questions which used to distinguish it from the former. The fact that the opposition, and a good number of the independent media, have never posed the question of who is responsible for the war and the economic collapse in the country, has obviously contributed to this closing of ranks between the originally opposed groups.
Assessing that the end of Milosevic's regime is approaching, a part of the patriotic bloc is rapidly distancing itself from him and becoming the harshest critic of his policy. It builds its strategy on the Kosovo issue, convinced that this issue will be the cause of Milosevic's downfall. However they still do not dare pose the question of who is responsible for the war, enormous financial losses, crimes, casualties, everyday suffering of people, and the overall regression of the Serbian society. But this change of heart indicates also that they are trying to ensure their social positions in any future political set-up and simultaneously avoid responsibility for taking part in this regime.
The anti-war bloc embodied in the independent media also contributes to this strategy of collective oblivion and inclusion in the new processes of transition. They also reckon on their new positions in a future political milieu. This conformist position is reflected in its current efforts to present reality which has nothing to do with the way thing really are. Finally this indicates that they take an inflated view of their own importance and role in the political scene of Serbia.