IWPR & MEDIA PLAN
20 November 1996: Vol II/ No 3
The B&H Media Week in Review: 4-17 November 1996
There's Someone to Write to the General
All the fuss surrounding the enforced changes at the top of the Federal Ministry of Defence (pursued with most relish by HRT) had just calmed down when the media's attention was drawn to the earthquake shaking Republika Srpska's military foundations. By decree of President Biljana Plavic, the RS Army found itself with new chiefs and its Supreme Command transformed into a General Staff. Although President Plavic thanked Ratko Mladic (an indicted war criminal) for his past services and expressed regret that she could not reappoint him as commander because of the well-known attitude of the international community, such publicly expressed compliments did not jolly the wartime generals into accepting their collective discharge ("Novosti", 9 November). Nor did the subsequent explanation that the changes were "structural, and not personal" in character help ("Novosti", 12 November).
Srpska Television sided with the civilian authorities in their confrontation with the military. Besides reporting support in the ranks for the changes, SRT's editors offered a commentary on "Novosti" (14 November) which claimed that there had been no effective control over the Chiefs of Staff during the past two years, and that "the aims and intentions of some persons and groups of officers were unacceptable." But the displaced generals were far from idle. This became obvious when, three days later, the editorial staff of SRT announced that the ousted generals and their followers had seized SRT's Zep transmitter, so cutting links between Pale and Banja Luka. (See below.)
TV B&H also showed great interest in the dismissal of General Mladic. "Dnevnik" broadcast on 9 November the reactions of Hasan Muratovic, Mirza Hajric, Michael McClay (OHR) and Aleksandar Ivanko (UN). They were restrained, but stressed that Mladic's place was in The Hague. Polls conducted on the streets of Sarajevo, Belgrade and Pale followed, in which passers by were asked what they made of Mladic's dismissal. The presenter concluded with the opinion that, "Plavic was wise enough to do what Karadic never dared." The next day "Dnevnik" carried agency reports (Reuters, AFP) that Mladic had refused to accept his discharge, followed by two complete items from Srpska TV about Mladic's defiance of orders.
Commentaries and analyses are rarely heard on Radio B&H. Their absence was conspicuous in the radio coverage of events in RS. "Dnevnik" merely repeated contradictory assessments from the Belgrade press about whether or not Mladic had accepted his sacking. It seemed "Dnevnik" accepted the first interpretation. But contrary to its normal practice, on 17 November Radio B&H carried Srpska TV's dramatic news about the rebellion of Mladic's supporters, introducing the report with the observation that "the conflict between the government and the ousted officers, led by the accused war criminal Ratko Mladic, is becoming more obvious."
The events in RS received careful treatment on Croatian Radio Herceg-Bosna. It was stressed that IFOR would recognise only new General Staff Commander Pero Colic as their interlocutor. But Mladic's statement to the Belgrade paper Blic about the rebellion of his loyalists was also broadcast. Reporting of the crisis in RS became more frequent and complete as the confrontation became more open. Mladic's dismissal was the story of the day from B&H on Croatian Television. "Dnevnik"'s presenter saw a "high probability" that the general would not accept his discharge by President Plavic. "Motrita" carried on 17 November the warning by General M. Milanovic that "there is a possibility of civil war in RS", but did not offer its own assessment.
The reaction of Serbian Television was totally different. Rather, it did not react at all, thereby risking such credibility as it retains with its audience. While media around the world reported day after day on Mladic's sacking, RTS preserved an enigmatic silence. Admittedly, the affair came at an awkward time - between the two rounds in the local elections in FRY. But in the same way as it hushed up the unpleasantness in Gajevi and Koraj and IFOR's sharp reaction (see below), RTS appeared determined to present only the "beautified" face of "Dayton Bosnia" in which Miloevic has invested so much.
The SRT board issued the following announcement on 17 November:
Since 12 November SRT has not operated as a single system. The reason is that a group of cashiered generals and lower ranking officers loyal to them has seized the central TV transmitter at Zep and put it out of order. Those who call themselves members of the General Staff have launched themselves on equipment and buildings which, after enemy bombardment, the Serb people bought at great cost. After this truly despicable act, although firmly resolved not to use force, RS government representatives must still consider bringing some of these so called officers to court, especially as they have lately held innocent people as hostages. Among them were three of our technicians, whose fault it was only to have passed on the road, at which point the group of masked men in uniforms was operating. These colleagues are in a state of shock following numerous insults and five days spent in the caves that the members of the former General Staff are using as cells for solitary confinement.
As for one of our colleagues, who worked as a technician at the incapacitated transmitter, it is not even known if he is still alive.
According to BH Press, Banja Luka's Radio Krajina, which was close to General Ratko Mladic and the sacked officers of the RS General Staff, was shut down on 13 November. RS police entered the Army building which housed the station and confiscated its transmitter. The station's editor was Colonel Milovan Milutinovic, Mladic's former press spokesman. Like Mladic, Milutinovic was cashiered by decree of President Biljana Plavic.
The station issued the following statement on the day of its closure:
We take this opportunity to inform our faithful listeners that we are not able to continue with our programmes, and we express our sincere gratitude to the Serb people of Krajina for their constant support during the last 14 months.
The death of the only non-SDS broadcaster in RS was an ironic instance of "collateral damage" sustained in the internationally supported battle against Mladic.
The first anniversary of the Dayton agreement provided an opportunity for the media to make long lists of unfulfilled commitments. There were no festive touches. The Paris conference, for its part, saw an attempt to put the somewhat blurred picture of Dayton into focus, but left important matters like the formation of an all-Bosnian council of ministers to the forthcoming conclave in London.
Several of the electronic media covered the meeting in Paris according to the principle "everyone follows his own man". Srpska TV reported the event on "Novosti" and "Vidik" (14 November). All attention was devoted to their member of the Presidency, Momcilo Krajinik, whose every utterance was broadcast live or quoted. A short extract from Kreimir Zubak's statement was also broadcast in which he said that Carl Bildt's authority should not be enlarged. But the remarks of Presidency President Alija Izetbegovic were totally ignored. Such treatment of an event obviously serves a political agenda, but it is no excuse for only partly fulfilling a journalistic assignment.
Radio B&H's special correspondent at the Paris conference was highly critical of the proceedings, telling listeners that the Americans have "declared the three Bosnian sides guilty in advance, while pardoning the international community" (14 November). The stark contrast between his negative appraisal of the conference and the glowing assessment of Premier Hasan Muratovic, broadcast on TV B&H's "Dnevnik", was remarkable.
Television B&H had also sent a special reporter to cover the encounter of the Presidency members with Bosnia's international guardians. Explaining what was going on behind the scenes the day before the conference began (13 November), the reporter gave precedence to the clash between the Americans and Europeans over the joint statement which was due to be adopted. He also claimed that Krajinik represented the main obstacle to achieving agreement on various issues, but did not explain this judgment. "Dnevnik" led the next day by reading the complete text of the Paris declaration. The reporter also interviewed Muratovic, who was the only one to say something about the activities of the three presidents in Paris. Concluding his package, the reporter noted that a great deal of pressure had been put on the Bonjak side during the summit. Interviewed by TV B&H the following day, Izetbegovic explained that "concentric" pressure had been applied over the formation of a council of ministers.
Croatian Radio Herceg-Bosna covered events in Paris through agency reports. It offered no commentaries.
The Paris conference led the main newscasts of both Croatian (HRT) and Serbian (RTS) television. B&H Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic described the results of the meting for HRT on the "Motrita" programme. Serbian TV, for its part, broadcast a twelve-minute report. This gave star billing to FRY Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic, who took the opportunity to stress Yugoslavia's crucial contribution to establishing peace in B&H.
The Paris document on the consolidation of civil structures in B&H over the next two years - the term of the recently elected authorities - provides a new incentive for inter-ethnic and inter-entity co-operation, as well as for the restoration of media confidence. As the measurement of the number and character of items broadcast about the "other" entity on TV B&H and SRT shows (see table below), trust among the media is still not even close to the threshold which politicians may soon cross - at least with one foot.
Television may long since have changed the world into a "global village", but the opposite process seems also to be taking place. Thanks to the power of the tube, some small and quite ordinary Bosnian villages have managed to acquire a planetary importance. Yesterday it was Jusici and Dugi Dio; today it is Gajevi and Koraj which have become well-known places where all the contradictions in Bosnia's wartime experience are cruelly refracted. The ordeal of refugees, worsened by their failed attempts to return to their homes in the Zone of Separation (ZOS) between the entities, has become a highly politicised topic in the media. The rhetorical tom-toms are beating again.
Every ethnic and political strain in B&H makes IFOR a media target. Recent events seem, however, to have revealed a certain alteration in RTV B&H's attitude towards IFOR. Although relations with international organisations have generally - but especially for Radio B&H - been a tempting sphere for the selection and presentation of negative stories, this tendency seems lately to have increased.
True to its political masters, SRT has from the very beginning characterised the return of refugees to the ZOS as a crude and hostile threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of RS. Srpska TV reported the burning of Serb houses near Brcko and Kljuc as events "in which the Muslim police are also taking part" ("Novosti", 6 and 7 November). Cases in which Bonjak and Croat houses are destroyed are not mentioned. The climax to the story came with the open conflicts in Gajevi and Koraj. Srpska TV twice aired ("Novosti", 12 November, and "Vidik", 14 November) the declaration of the deputy minister of the interior, M. Kariik, that "the Muslims have been expelled and their incursions will not be permitted again." Unlike during the confrontations at Jusici and Dugi Dio, this time there was no criticism of IFOR. Radio Srpska also carried commentaries from some opposition parties, including the Serbian Party of Krajina and Posavina. According to its representative, G. Lazarevic, "The incursions must be smashed; force must be answered with force."
Radio B&H dramatised the incident in Gajevi as both "a crime against Bonjaks and a serious blow to the forces of NATO and IFOR which, coming at the very end of their mission in B&H, have definitely received a minus mark." No mention was made, however, of the remarks by the IFOR spokesman, Brett Boudrou, regarding the "provocative behaviour" of the armed Bonjaks in Gajevi (12 November). Nor were the assessments of IFOR officers broadcast. According to them, the incident in Celici (where B&H Army weapons were confiscated) and the previous day's events in Gajevi were very different from what both the B&H Army and Radio B&H reported (14 November). The golden rule - let us hear the other side - was once again brushed aside in a rush of patriotic zeal. Such enthusiasm is rarely the ally of objectivity and professionalism.
The dominant news story on TV B&H over the past two weeks has been the return of Bonjak refugees to the Serb entity. Gajevi received the most time. The presenter of "Dnevnik" announced at the beginning of the 11 November newscast that a group of Bonjaks had returned home, only to be met with fire from the Serb police, during which one IPTF officer was wounded. In the report that followed, the journalist mentioned that one of the assailants (ie, Serb policemen) had also been wounded, but without further explanation. The story ended with short statements by the IFOR representative, who said "there was an exchange of fire between the two sides during the incident"; by UN spokesman Aleksandar Ivanko, who noted that the Serbs had started the shooting; and by the UNHCR's Chris Janowski, who also blamed the Serbs, but opined that such mass returns hardly helped pacify the situation.
The next item dealt with Alija Izetbegovic's and Ejup Ganic's meeting with refugees from Koraj. In this report the mayor of Gajevi was heard to hint that the Bonjaks had shared responsibility for the incident when he remarked that "refugees cannot wait any longer."
The Gajevi incident continued to top the newscast over the next few days. But TV B&H's Tuzla correspondent also continued to obscure any fact which might indicate that Bonjaks shared even partial responsibility for what had taken place. "Dnevnik"'s editors, however, included statements by IFOR officers and other foreign functionaries who mentioned that the Bonjaks had been armed and had not followed the established procedure for approving returns to the ZOS. Viewers did not, therefore, get just one side of the story.
TV B&H seemed certain, however, that IFOR bore most of the blame for the sad story because it had "failed to create the elementary conditions for return." The level of animosity rose further when it emerged that the international force had raided a B&H Army barracks in Celic. No intemperate words were used, but IFOR's behaviour was judged "unbecoming".
Croatian Radio Herceg-Bosna devoted considerable attention to the events near Koraj. But its reports were based on wire service despatches and were unaccompanied by any commentaries. Only once, on 12 November, was the story introduced with a cynical remark about "Muslims and Serbs practicing 'brotherhood and unity'".
Only Serbian TV knows why it did not deliver a single word on the increasing tensions in the ZOS and the conflict in Gajevi.
It is interesting that not one of the broadcasters monitored considered that it might be appropriate to explain to viewers or listeners the agreed procedure for the return of refugees to the ZOS. Perhaps that would have been no problem if editors and journalists knew anything about it themselves.
Bosnian athletes have notched up some recent successes. TV B&H placed the national football team's successive wins over Italy and Slovenia at the top of "Dnevnik", noting that "after its political victories, B&H is also scoring sporting triumphs." The state network has used repeats of these matches to fill out its schedules.
The political usefulness of sport was also on display in the much-hyped world championship match in kick boxing held in Sanski Most. The result was distasteful. Radio B&H introduced Zijo Poljo as "the strongest Bonjak" who hopes to "rejoice with the Bonjak anthem and Bonjak flag" (8 November). At the beginning of the live television relay of the match, Sanski Most Mayor Mehmed Alagic greeted first "the representative of the Party (you know which one) from Sarajevo, Osman Brka."
Meanwhile, Srpska TV's sports reporter could not resist remarking, after Mike Tyson's defeat by Evander Holyfield, "So, dear viewers, we have been deprived of the chance to witness Tyson's traditional obeisance to Islam!"
The media propaganda war may soon - if we can believe SRT - advance to the higher phase of "electronic warfare". SRT accused the "Muslim side" of having lately obstructed SRT's signal by electronic means ("Novosti", 8 November). The management of SRT has decided to request protection from international officials, citing the Dayton treaty's guarantee of media freedom. In so far as the interference does not stop, SRT's management board says that it will, reluctantly, be forced to take retaliatory measures against RTV B&H.
RTV B&H has not yet shown any inclination to join the fray over hi-tech propaganda.
Monitors have recently measured the frequency of items relating to "the other entity" on the main newscasts of TV B&H and Srpska TV.
The column headed "total number of items" shows how many times items about the other entity were broadcast in the period 4-17 November.
The column headed "attitude" refers to the treatment of the other entity, subdivided in terms of item content (headed "item") and editorial approach (headed "journalist"). In other words, monitors were asked to mark both the content and the journalistic treatment of news items. Monitors awarded a mark of +1 for each item which was positive or sympathetic in content, and another +1 if the story was treated positively or sympathetically by the presenter or reporter. Marks of -1, on the other hand, were given to items which were negative in content and/or revealed a hostile editorial approach. A mark of 0 was recorded for items which were neutral in content and/or presentation, usually because they provided only information of no particular cast. The sums of these marks are shown separately for item content and editorial approach.
Both TV B&H and Srpska TV adopt, apparently on principle, a negative stance towards events in the "other" entity. However, almost all items from the Federation have negative connotations for Srpska TV (87 per cent). Only one report related to an event with a positive character. Seven (11 per cent) pieces were neutral. TV B&H's view of the "other" entity is somewhat rosier. Twenty reports dealt with negative events in or features of RS (51 per cent). Three (nearly 8 per cent) were actually positive, and 16 reports (41 per cent) were neutral.
Although it is obvious that a negative selection of events in the other entity prevails on both televisions, this survey also shows that reporters and presenters rarely put an "authorial stamp" on their despatches or presentations. Among the 39 stories about RS presented on TV B&H, 28 (72 per cent) were marked as being neutral in terms of journalistic approach. Nine (23 per cent) were negative and two (5 per cent) were positive. On Srpska TV, 47 (75 per cent) were neutral, 16 (25 per cent) were negative and none was positive. This predominance of "neutrality" does not, alas, indicate a new and higher degree of professionalism among journalists, since negative selection of events makes editorial intervention redundant.
Zoran Kapetanovic has resigned as director of Radio Tuzla. He is set to take over as editor of Radio Tuzla-Podrinje Canton. Kapetanovic cites the uncooperative attitude of the RTV Tuzla director, Sead Musemic, and his lack of contact with the management board and municipal council as reasons for his departure.
"I think that the main reason for this situation lies in the fact that I am a member of the SDA, and in such a situation it is not realistic to expect any positive results," wrote Kapetanovic in his letter of resignation.
On the other hand, the founders (ie, owners) have not yet decided whether to accept his resignation or to take other measures. According to Jasmin Imamovic, secretary of the municipal council, their decision will depend on the results of an investigation into the legality of labour contracts in this media institution.
The European Commission has organised a conference for 29 November in Brussels which will examine the role of the media in the peace process in former Yugoslavia. The meeting will be supported by the Council of Europe and the International Federation of Journalists. Among scheduled speakers are Theo Sommer, publisher of Die Zeit, and Aidan White, secretary of the IFJ. The conference is to be attended by journalists from B&H, Croatia and FR Yugoslavia.
The Serb Civic Council (SGV) in the Zenica-Doboj canton has released a statement about the recent murder of Slavko Jovanovic from Maglaj. Neither the motive nor the perpetrator of this crime has been established. The SGV statement stresses that Slavko Jovanovic spent the entire war in Maglaj, and that he was a supporter of a multi-national B&H, which he demonstrated by his membership of the SGV in Maglaj.
Condemning this outrage, the Zenica-Doboj SGV also cites the disturbing fact that media in the Federation made no mention of the crime.
Maglaj's local television station was forced to stop broadcasting after unknown persons stole equipment and cut cables from its transmitter. This is the third time this year that citizens of Maglaj have been deprived of their local television programme because of the theft of transmission equipment from the station. An investigation is continuing.
Replying to a hostile article published in Dnevni Avaz on 1 November under the title "Coverage writes its licence", Radio FERN issued a denial in which, among other things, it stated that FERN has six transmitters in its system. They provide coverage of 81 per cent of Federation territory and 61 per cent of RS territory. Therefore, the allegation in Avaz that the station can be heard only in B&H Army-controlled parts of the Federation is untrue. According to FERN, its signal can also be received in Serbia and Croatia. In order to "cover" the rest of B&H territory, FERN aims to work both with RTV B&H and with stations in RS. FERN has been asked to install transmitters in Velika Kladua, Trebinje and Tuzla. It is considering the inclusion of these initiatives in its 1997 budget, according to Project Manager Dr. Dino Bornatico.
Since the Federal Ministry for Education, Science, Culture and Sport declared that it considers Dr. Senahid Halilovic's new Bosnian orthography to be normative and obligatory for state institutions, more attention will need to be paid to the education of proof-readers in the Bosnian language and to their assignment in the main state media of public discourse.
A new Youth Radio X has opened under the auspices of the Young People's Centre in Mostar. The station will broadcast news and entertainment programmes. It aims to bring together co-workers from both sides of the city and from young people in exile.
Radio stations operating in several B&H towns under the name "Hayat", and which are mainly supported by the Islamic Religious Community, are preparing to unite to form a single network.
Having investigated HABENA's false report of the deaths of five Croats in northern Bosnia, IFOR and IPTF requested the Croatian news agency to issue a formal apology. The agency has now done so, along with an assurance that it is itself investigating the circumstances which led to its despatch.
Sarajevo's Media Plan, an independent media development and research firm, plans to open a press information centre in Banja Luka. It will be the first branch office of a Federation-based firm to be established in RS. This initiative is being backed by the Winston Foundation for World Peace from Washington, D.C. The centre will have a media library and reading room containing press titles published in both entities. It is expected that gatherings of journalists from RS and the Federation will take place in the centre, as well as professional training of journalists to undertaken in cooperation with IWPR from London. The centre will be staffed by independent journalists from Banja Luka.
The following media were monitored for this week's report: Srpski Radio, Srpska TV, Radio BiH, TV BiH, Hrvatski radio HB, TV Srbije, Hrvatska televizija,
(c) Copyright: The Institute for War and Peace Reporting 1996
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