BATTLE AGAINST TERRORISM IN DAILY PRESS IN CROATIA:
SUPPORT TO 'ENDURING FREEDOM'
by Stojan Obradović
US anti-terrorist attacks on Afghanistan
received special treatment in all Croatian media, the press in particular. The
two highest circulation dailies in Croatia and the subject of our monitoring, Vecernji
List and Jutarnji List, dedicated separate pages to coverage of the
US military campaign, especially at its beginning. Vecernji List gave
these pages the name of the US and allies’ operation ‘Enduring Freedom,’
while Jutarnji List announced reports on attacks against Afghanistan on
the front page under the campaign’s official name and on inside pages under
the name ‘America strikes back.’
Both papers approached the beginning of US
attacks on Afghanistan in almost the same way, dedicating entire front pages to
the story; Vecernji List under the headline ‘America attacks
Afghanistan’ and Jutarnji List under the headline ‘War starts.’
They presented the main ‘actors’ of the war on the front page – on one
side US President George W. Bush and on the other Osama bin Laden – and they
carried their ‘messages’ to the world public.
In addition, in the sub-headline Vecernji
List suggested the ‘other pole’ of the war that will later dominate
coverage of the issue – ‘fear of retaliation’ – while Jutarnji List
announced that it has its own correspondents at the scene, actually close to it
(in Pakistan and Tajikistan, and later also in Afghanistan itself), thus
suggesting its exclusivity and authenticity.
Vecernji List published 277 articles
related to US strikes against Afghanistan and terrorism in the monitored period,
while Jutarnji List published 347 articles. Of course, both figures
should be taken with some reservation and a slight deviation of 5-10 percent
because some borderline articles may or may not be included in the terrorism
In both papers the war dominated the front
pages during the first four or five days, after which it became only one of the
issues on the front page while new terrorist threats broke into the foreground,
such as the fear of the spreading of Anthrax and bioterrorism, especially as
these threats could be ‘felt’ in the country (false alarms created by
letters with white powder).
During the first days the war was covered on
prime pages after which, still under a special heading, it moved to pages
normally reserved for world news. Their number fell after the first five days of
the monitoring period from six pages (plus front page) to three, and in the end
to only two pages.
Jutarnji List gave the war a little
more space and attention, as can be seen from the number of items and pages.
This is partly due to the fact that it had its own reporters in Tajikistan and
Pakistan, and in the end in Afghanistan itself as well.
In the structure of articles on war and
terrorism published in this 15-day period, articles based on agency items
prevailed. From a formal point of view, almost 60 percent of articles in Vecernji
List and almost 70 percent in Jutarnji List were signed by agencies.
In effect the number of articles based on agency reports is even higher because
it is apparent that a big part of articles signed by journalists is also written
on the basis of different agency reports, other media, etc. From a formal point
of view, Vecernji List uses the local agency HINA much more frequently (almost
80 percent of agency items in Vecernji List are signed by HINA, while in Jutarnji
List their number of close to 40 percent). However, a large number of HINA
items results from the agency’s exchange and cooperation with other world
In any case, the majority of items covering
the war in Afghanistan features solely facts, while the share of analysis,
commentary, reportage and other similar forms is very little. In Jutarnji
List this share is only around 13.5 percent of all published items, and in Vecernji
List a little less than 10 percent. This difference is understandable if we
take into account that Jutarnji List had its own reporters in the war
Only the start of the war was covered by
commentaries and we might say that commentaries in both papers warned very
critically and seriously about the other side of the war and its consequences. A
Jutarnji List commentator wrote that this is the start of a war such as
had never been seen before, but categorically rejected even the idea that this
is a conflict of two civilizations. The commentator said it is only a conflict
of two concepts, a ‘legal’ and a ‘mafia’ concept, which are present and
in conflict in any civilization. A Vecernji List commentator also warned
that this war, different from any other, brings a danger of lasting insecurity
in the countries that started it and says that fear (of revenge and retaliation)
may become their long-term characteristic. Commentators are not euphoric and
they sensibly warn of current manipulations and potential dangers.
However, we cannot say that this ‘tone’
and approach was followed by the subsequent structure of war reports published
in these two papers.
It seems evident that the ‘American’
view of the war prevailed. There is a lot of information on war operations and
direct or indirect consequences of the war for the western world (from various
potential terrorist threats to economic and other consequences), while the
plight of the Afghans is in great disproportion and in the background. For
example, Vecernji List showed destruction of Afghanistan twice on the
front page in the 15 monitored days and mentioned casualties in a sub-headline
only once. In Jutarnji List a photograph of destruction is published on
the front page only once showing destruction of one of bin Laden’s terrorist
camps. In any case, disproportion in the coverage of the Afghan plight caused by
the US bombing and the cold, hunger and life in refuge was a little more
apparent in Vecernji List. Jutarnji List tended to give the
current and potential plight in Afghanistan a more appropriate and balanced
With regard to focus in the coverage
structure, it moved from the war itself to potential terrorism threats. After
the first few days of the war, in Vecernji List potential threats and
current fears started to dominate pages set aside for the ‘Enduring Freedom’
campaign and anthrax became an almost dominant topic. This trend is less
noticeable in Jutarnji List, which has a more favorable balance in
covering war operations and potential threats of terrorist attacks.
But the fact that Jutarnji List, for
example, had its own reporters in the war arena did not contribute enough to
better quality of reporting from the scene. Some reports sent by Jutarnji
List’s Pakistan reporter were below any journalistic level and appeared to
be the journalist’s self-advertising more than a source of serious information
and analysis from the scene. Journalists from some other papers not included in
this monitoring (Novi List from Rijeka), who also reported from the war arena (first
Pakistan, and then also Tajikistan and Azerbaijan), showed more ability in
covering some issues and problems on which there is lack of information.
Although the structure of the war reporting
is so to say quite “americanized”, we can not allege that it stimulates
antiislamic nor antimuslim atmosphere or preconditions. In any case the coverage
of war events is characterized by lack of more analytical items shedding light
on all aspects of this major war and civilizational crisis with global
consequences. A precise analysis might show some unnecessary and even wrong
emphasis of certain attributes or events which, for example, suggest connections
between the (Muslim) Bosnia and terrorism, but these are sporadic deviations
aiming to be ‘attractive’ more than to incite systematic prejudice. This is
all the more important because, according to some estimates, Croatian media have
not remained immune to the anti-Islamic hysteria that followed terrorist attacks
on US cities. However, this tone was now not noticed.
Monitoring showed that these two papers
differ slightly in essential characteristics of covering the war and terrorism.
There are differences in form, presentation and emphasis of certain items or
issues. One may say that Jutarnji List is more focused on war operations
and that its coverage balances certain aspects of war-related events more
But there are also some essential
similarities in shortcomings related to coverage of the issue – lack of more
frequent and better quality analytical items covering all the complexities of
the current events, war, its causes and consequences.
Stojan Obradovic is the Editor in Chief of the
independent news agency STINA, Split (Croatia). Translation by K.H. ©Media
Online 2001. All rights reserved.
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