Bojana Pejic on Wed, 07 Jul 1999 14:20:00 +0200

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Syndicate: MEDIA &WAR 2/1

Dear Syndicalists,

here is a text by a film critic from Belgrade, Goran Gocic, which I've got
long ago but did not post it so far.

May be it is still not late to read as it appoaches the media and war
issues. All opponions expressed by the author of the text are not
necessaryly shared by the sender (myself) but it think it is worth reading

bojana pejic


 Gesendet: 	Montag, 24. Mai 1999 01:29

>From: "Djordje Tomic" <tomicd@EUnet.yu>

>Goran Gocic
>Media increasingly are participants in war, but not necessarily combatants
 (The case of Media wars in former Yugoslavia)
>0. Introduction
>In this essay I will make an attempt to show how media actively
>participate in wars. I will argue on example of wars in Yugoslavia that in
>contemporary wars media have a frequently decisive role. My approach to
>the topic is empirical, based on analysis of current US and UK media
>coverage of this subject. However, it makes a decent case study for the
>"propaganda model" theory of media in US, by Edward S Herman and Noam
>Chomsky1, who argued that there are several filters in the way of
>"objective" reporting, which cause considerable distorting of facts. The
>filters are: 1) size, ownership and profit orientation of the mass media
>2) the advertising licence to do business 3) sourcing the mass media news
>4) flak and the enforcers (negative reaction of the public to some media
>story) 5) anti-communism as a control mechanism 6) dichotomization and the
>propaganda campaigns. In Yugoslavia media wars, it seems that the last two
>filters are particularly important.
>It is media wars that are waged today. One can easily claim, for example,
>that in the purely military sense, the Gulf War did not take place at all
>- as Jean Baudrillard and Jeffrey Walsh did2. Or, to translate this
>radical form of Newspeech, it really did not matter what happened on
>ground, or whether anything happened at all, but what and how was
>Obviously, there is a certain tension between media and military, which
>are engaged in the same war. The shocking events on the ground - such as
>"live" invasions or carnage of civilians - are scoops for the media, but
>potentially dangerous for the military. Theoretically, the media have
>interests in quickly showing what is happening on the ground and the
>military have interests to conceal it or manipulate the facts for their
>own propaganda purposes. The military is hiding their operations and
>builds new,
>invisible weapons, such as "Stealth" planes, resistive to radar. The
>media, on the other hand, are increasingly demanding revealing information
>and, if at all possible, picture. Both are aware that providing certain
>pictures, with deliberate propaganda intent or otherwise, can change the
>course of wars - it can justify them or prevent their further development.
>The military is aware of that: its game with the media is one of control
>and power. Ideally, again, reporting from the wars, therefore, has to
>reach a point of a tense compromise. Or must it?
>1. Visibility of Proof: Seeing is Destroying, Seeing is Believing
>"'If I had to sum up current thinking on precision missiles and saturation
>weaponry in a single sentence' said W. J. Perry a former US
>Under-Secretary of state for Defence, 'I would put it like this: once you
>can see the target, you can expect to destroy it'. This quotation
>perfectly expresses the new geostrategic situation and partially explains
>the current round of disarmament. If what is perceived is already lost, it
>becomes necessary to invest in concealment what used to be invested in
>simple exploitation of the new stealth weapons."3
>It is not matter anymore of incredulous, science-ridden sceptics who need
>tangible proofs that something happened, like, for example, landing of
>aliens in some American backwater. The situation is much more complex
>today, and it is not (only) a question of eyewitnesses who are
>deliberately lying, because they desperately need attention and/or are
>psychotic. It is another, more radicalised issue: humans are not seen as
>trustworthy enough to make "important" decisions. It seems that we do not
>trust other people or our own eyes, but we do trust our technology, i.e.
>video cameras when they he Nato-Yugoslav war, the Yugoslav government
>decided to ban all foreign journalists from Kosovo. The only remaining
>sources of information from the ground were official Yugoslav State
>agencies and the members of secessionist guerrillas, KLA (Kosovo
>Liberation Army).
>Just like the Bosnian Muslim forces in the previous war, KLA spreaded
>stories of atrocities to Nato, and Nato was only too happy to distribute
>them to western media, using them as a justification of their actions.
>Without means to confirm the information, respectable western media
>quickly launched stories that later turned out to be untrue, to the
>embarrassment of champions of "unbiased" press and television. There are
>several examples. It did not matter that Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim
>Rugova was proclaimed dead and then resurrected a couple of days later or
>that Pristina football stadium, claimed to be a "concentration camp" for
>20,000 people, on inspection turned out to be empty. What mattered was
>that data such as these were daily published by the media, that they
>served a propaganda role at a certain moment, only to be forgotten in face
>of new, equally improbable reports. There were also reports of 20 Albanian
>teachers shot in front of their pupils. After a check-up, it turned out
>that the village where it allegedly took place had only 200 inhabitants.
>Therefore, "the number of teachers was high even by the educational
>standards of the New Left" (Mick Hume). KLA obviously spreaded rumours
>about the atrocities, and possibly instructed the population to do the
>3. Spin Doctors: Seeing Should Not Mean Believing
>The public is not only a victim of media's deliberate policies that
>encourages some types of stories over others. The media themselves are
>also involuntary victims of PR doctoring. They are presented by specific
>bits of information gathered by professional groups that are paid to
>disseminate false statements and allegations to meet a certain political
>or tactical aim. One of the such companies, Ruder & Finn Global Public
>Affairs, became notorious during the wars in Yugoslavia. Croats, Bosnian
>Muslims and Albanians from Kosovo hired them to spread propaganda against
>the Serbs.
>The interview which has been given to Mr. Jacques Merlino in Paris in
>October 1993 for French Channel Two television, throws some light on
>practices employed by PR companies. The interviewee is James Harff,
>director of Ruder & Finn, and he explains how his company managed to
>perform a media coup:
>H: "For 18 months, we have been working for the Republics of Croatia and
>Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as for the opposition in Kosovo. Speed is
>vital, because items favourable to us must be settled in public opinion.
>The first statement counts. The retractions have no effect. M: What
>achievement were you most proud of? H: To have managed to put Jewish
>opinion on our side. This was a sensitive matter, as the dossier was
>dangerous looked from this angle. President Tudjman was very careless in
>his book "Wastelands of Historical Reality". Reading this writings, one
>could accuse him of anti-Semitism. In Bosnia, the situation was no better:
>President Izetbegovic strongly supported the creation of a fundamentalist
>Islamic state in his book "The Islamic Declaration". The Croatian and
>Bosnian past was marked by a real and cruel anti-Semitism. Tens of
>thousands of Jews perished in Croatian camps. So there was every reason
>for intellectuals and Jewish organisations to be hostile towards the
>Croats and Bosnians. Our challenge was to reverse this attitude. And we
>succeeded masterfully. At the beginning of August 1992, the New York
>Newsday came out with the affair of (Serb) concentration camps. We jumped
>at the opportunity immediately. We outwitted three big Jewish
>organisations - B'Nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Committee,
>and the American Jewish Congress. We suggested to them to publish an
>advertisement in the New York Times and to organise demonstrations outside
>the UN. This was a tremendous coup. When the Jewish organisations entered
>the Game on the side of the (Muslim) Bosnians, we could promptly equate
>the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind. Nobody understood what was
>happening in Yugoslavia. But, by a single move, we were able to present a
>simple story of good guys and bad guys, which would hereafter play itself.
>We won by targeting Jewish audience. Almost immediately there was a clear
>change of language in the press, with the use of words with high emotional
>content, such as "ethnic cleansing", "concentration camps", etc. which
>evoked images of Nazi Germany and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The
>emotional charge was so powerful that nobody could go against it. 8
>>From the point of view of media researcher, there are some interesting facts
>stated here and some important consequences. First is relevance of the
>first statement, i.e. speed of launching information. In his article "The
>Next War: Live", Barrie Dunsmore9 analyses how live coverage have affected
>previous wars, particularly the war in Gulf. For this research, however,
>it turns out that it is beside the point whether the information is "live"
>or not, i.e. was it instantaneous or not, as long as it was quick enough
>to be presented to the public before the enemy got hold of it and
>interpreted it its own way. "The retractions", as Mr. Harff puts it, "have
>no effect".
>This means that one can operate, deliberately or otherwise, with
>constructions that do not have to be even close to truth, and still reach
>a certain effect in the audience. However, once news or PR agency
>distances itself from the source (quoting it from KLA, Nato or Newsday, a
>Ruder & Finn 's source), there is no legal or professional obligation nor
>standard that could limit or obstruct such actions. As long you "quote"
>someone else's rumour, there's nobody who can stop you spreading racism or
>Moreover, there is no use in legally exposing such actions after they
>served their initial propaganda purpose. There is also no use in attempts
>of persecution for libel of those who manipulated the information, as the
>trial of ITV report on alleged death camps in Bosnia implies. Not only
>subjectivity, taking sides and partisanship are allowed into journalism,
>but also hate speech is absolutely justified on all levels of
>communication under the nice euphemism "journalism of attachment".
>Finally, it is indicative that Serbs had no contact similar to Ruder &
>Finn. They have lost media wars in all 90's civil wars waged in former
>Yugoslavia. As a direct consequence, they later lost both the diplomatic
>plights and territories. This proves that the media role in former
>Yugoslavia's wars have more important role than it might appear.
>4. Two Events from Yugoslav Civil War
>To illustrate the idea of "attachment" in western journalism, one should
>take into account two important occasions. One which was used as an excuse
>for Nato intervention in Bosnia, and the other which served the same
>purpose in war over Kosovo. The same scenario has been repeated in
>Yugoslav civil wars on several occasions. It complies with the scheme
>threat-atrocity-use of force.
>The first instance was after the three secessionist Yugoslav republics,
>Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, encouraged by several European
>countries, initiated unilateral independence in 1991 and 1992. On the 21
>May 1992 US Senate passed The Yugoslavia Sanctions Act of 1992. Yugoslavia
>was to fulfil six points in order to avoid the imposition of economic and
>cultural sanctions because it opposed the secessions. Shortly after, on 27
>May 1992, in what becomes known as the Breadline Massacre, at least
>sixteen people are killed and over a hundred are wounded. Bosnian Serbs
>are blamed for the attack. The EC decides on the imposition of economic
>sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro. They would devastate what was
>left of the economy of southern Yugoslav republics.
>Another occasion is Nato intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina in August
>199510. On 27 August, US official pronounces threats to Serbs in case they
>do not sign a "peace plan" which is conspicuously unfavourable for them,
>even though they have already agreed to negotiate. The next day (28th) a
>massacre in Sarajevo's Markale marketplace takes place. With TV cameras
>conveniently placed on the spot, horrific scenes were filmed as 37 people
>were killed and 70 wounded. These scenes have been aired throughout the
>world, which caused the expected public indignation. The following day
>(29th), UN accused the Serbs of the massacre.
>Finally, on the 30th of August, Nato, synchronised with Bosnian and Croat
>forces on the ground, launches air attack against the Serbs in Bosnia.
>"Peace talks" take place during the Nato attack. UN Security Council
>addresses the issue only after the military action has already been taken.
>The last but not the least, Republika Srpska, a Serbian enclave in
>Bosnia-Herzegovina, is four years after still occupied by Nato forces,
>which control its media, hunt down alleged war criminals and replace
>elected presidents at will.
>The sequence of the principal events is remarkably similar to those in the
>current Kosovo crisis, but not in such obvious time sequence. First, by
>means of media coverage and financing of weapons, US back secessionist
>force inside Yugoslavia against the Serbs (beginning of 1998). Then the
>apparently "independent" international body (OSCE in this case), led by a
>US diplomat William Walker discovers an alleged massacre in Kosovo's
>village of Racak and accuses Serbs for killing 40 civilians in cold blood.
>TV stations appear on the scene, films discovered bodies and western
>public is again aroused.
>Serbs, who have already agreed to 2,000 OSCE monitors, are already eager
>to sign peace process that would relieve them from the responsibility of
>establishing law and order into the province - even after the bad
>experience in Bosnia. However, in October 1998 the US proposes "peace
>plan" (in this case so-called "Rambouillet Accords") over Kosovo that is a
>massive violation of Yugoslav sovereignty. It is presented to Serbs in
>form of an ultimatum: in case it is not signed, the country would be
>bombed. When the Serbs refused it, Nato bypasses UN, largely infringes
>international law and goes forward with the bombing, while in the meantime
>a "diplomatic solution" is sought. One of the US conditions for this
>diplomatic solution is de facto independence of Kosovo, and its occupation
>by the Nato forces, as well as free use of Yugoslav territory and air
>space by the Nato.
>5. Atrocities Management
>There are several serious political implications of the whole affair, but
>what is important for us in this occasion is a notion of "atrocities
>management", as Edward S. Herman would put it. Namely, what Herman alone11
>and together with Noam Chomsky12 means by this term is that certain
>occurrences in wars world-wide are played up to the largest possible
>extent or even falsified in US media, while others are ignored. The
>purpose is to demonise one side and victimise the other in accordance with
>American interests, to make a clear demarcation between "worthy" and
>"unworthy" victims.
>The operations in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere had similar
>"atrocities management" pattern. In a shade of "respectable" international
>organisation (such as UN or OSCE) a US agent operates with clear
>instructions. In Iraq, it was Richard Butler, who was hired to lead the UN
>"inspection force". In fact, he worked for US intelligence with a task to
>provide enough evidence to condone the Iraqis. UN Security Council charged
>him with fabricating his last report to fit the needs of US and justify
>bombing of Iraq in December 1998.13
>In the two mentioned cases, Markale market and Racak village it turned out
>later, Serbian "atrocities" were obviously staged to win public opinion
>against them. In case of Markale market massacre, which triggered US/Nato
>action against the Serbs, the Sunday Times writes how the British and
>French ammunition experts from UN examined the scene of the massacre. They
>concluded that there is no "evidence" that Bosnian Serbs were responsible
>and expressed their suspicions that Bosnian Muslim forces - like in some
>previous occasions - killed their own people in order to make a media
>coup. However, they were ruled out by US official.14
>Initial reports from alleged Racak village massacre in Kosovo which was
>the introduction to an US/Nato ultimatum and subsequent air strikes on
>Yugoslavia, indicate that it was a similar affair. Racak was a KLA
>stronghold. Serbian police, accompanied by the French TV crew, and
>observed by the OSCE, launches an attack to the village. The latter
>verified that KLA was encircled and in exchange of fire, suffered heavy
>casualties. Apart from KLA, the village was empty. Yugoslav police takes
>control of the village, but leaves by nightfall, along with a crew.
>12 hours later, William Walker, a head of OSCE, is called by KLA along
>with journalists. He discovers about 40 bodies of Albanians in civilian
>clothes shot at a close range at the edge of the village, expresses
>indignation and accuses the Serbs for the massacre. Several commentators
>(including the French crew), however, expressed serious doubts about the
>authenticity of

Bojana Pejic
Merseburrger Str. 7
10823 Berlin
Phone/Fax: (+49) 30-787 52 90
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