Media in Serbia
by Diana Johnstone (3/27/99)

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Over the past nine years, how many times have we heard that "Milosevic is about to shut down the last independent radio (or newspaper) in Yugoslavia"? Nobody notices, a few months later, that the martyred newspaper (or radio) is in fact again functioning. But never mind - we'll soon hear that yet another "very last free media" is about to be shut down.

This exaggeration has helped Yugoslav journalists, publishers and editors raise contributions from the West (from the European Union, from foundations...) to finance their publications. It's hard to afford to keep a newspaper going, even in a country that is not subjected to sanctions as Serbia has been. Yugoslav media people should not be judged harshly for exaggerating their political difficulties -- the only way to shake money out of the rich West. Moreover, there has been more than a grain of truth in their complaints. From time to time the government has caused more or less serious difficulties for one or another newspaper or radio station, although such harassment has been opportunistic rather than systematic, and has never prevented Yugoslavia from enjoying a strikingly broad range of print media. I cannot think of a Western city where scathing criticism of the government is available in print day after day at newsstands all over town the way it is -- or has been until NATO began to bomb -- as in Belgrade.

Because no freedom interests the press as much as freedom of the press, and , complaints about Yugoslavia's "banned media" have had a resonance far beyond the gravity of the matter. The constant cry of "wolf!" (the big bad Milosevic about to eat up the media) has greatly contributed to the myth of Milosevic as "dictator" suppressing all freedoms and therefore "obliging" NATO to restore "human rights" by all means... eventually by destroying the country.

Having seen the various opposition newspapers being sold on every major street corner in Belgrade, as well as in provincial towns, having seen the Muslim fundamentalist newspapers on the stands in Novi Pazar and the numerous Albanian language publications on newsstands in Pristina, it is hard to understand how the myth of "no free press in Yugoslavia" could be maintained. Have the foreign observers and journalists been blind, sold out, or censored?

The freedom accorded the Albanian language press in Kosovo, which for years has specialized in promoting the idea that the Albanians must have Kosovo for themselves, is quite remarkable. Just as the freedom allowed ethnic Albanians to boycott all their normal civic obligations, even tax-paying, is without parallel in any other country.

Now, since NATO has begun a massive open-ended war against Yugoslavia, that country's government has really and truly closed a number of opposition media, including a radio station, B92, whose funding has come from the countries whose armed forces are currently mounting a massive and brutal war against that country. It seems that the government has also shut down certain Albanian-language newspapers openly supporting the "Kosovo Liberation Army".

And our human rights champions profess to be shocked. Night before last I was in a debate with a representative of Human Rights Watch, who thought I ought to share his indignation over this Milosevic outrage: Belgrade actually told journalists from the four NATO powers bombing Yugoslavia to leave the country. -- How dare the Serbs deprive us of our freedom to watch the effects of the torture machine we have set in motion? For this they must deserve to be bombed some more, even invaded (the next step).

Our Western human rights champions have lost all contact with humanity. Their infinite self-righteousness makes them unable to realize that for people on the receiving end of high-tech, kill-them-from-a-safe-distance warfare, war is still war. Seeing your country destroyed is the same as it always was. Dying has not changed. For the Serbs, this is not a video game, a show called "Can we make Milosevic back down?" presented in tidbits between commercials and comedy shows. It is a matter of life and death, especially death.

No, our humanitarians can't understand that, it is not part of their "human rights" agenda. So they need to be asked:

How many Japanese journalists were given free run of the United States after Pearl Harbor?

How many Nazi journalists were accredited to London to observe the blitz? For that matter, how closely could independent media observe Britain's Falklands war, or the Gulf War operations in Iraq in 1991?

There is no need for Western media in Yugoslavia now. We know what bombs do. They explode. They kill people. They frighten people. They make people very, very angry. They unite a nation.

There is no need for Western media to be there, because what they would say has been written in advance anyhow. It is part of the scenario. Even without any journalists on the scene, NATO officials are telling us what must be happening: brutal reprisals by Serbs against innocent Albanian civilians. Is it true? They would tell us that in any case. It is part of the bombing campaign: provoke Serbian reprisals. It is the trigger for the next phase of this criminal operation: after "humanitarian" bombing, "humanitarian" invasion.

NATO wants its protectorate. If Milosevic won't give it to them, as demanded in the ultimatum (called "peace agreement") the Serbs refused to sign in Paris, NATO will try to conquer by it by force. This is NATO's new mission for the 21st century: humanitarian nation deconstruction.

Expelled from Yugoslavia, Western journalists should turn their attention to an even bigger and much more mysterious story, one that really needs to be told: how and why did the United States and its European satellites manage in half a century to liquidate their entire heritage of human decency?


Diane Johnstone was European editor of In These Times (from 1979 to 1990) and press officer for the Greens in the Euro Parliament from 1990 to 1996. She is the author of The Politics of Euromissiles: Europe in America’s World (London/New York: Verso/Schuchken, 198+). She is now writing a book on Yugoslavia.

In response to widespread criticism of NATO's argument that Serbian atrocities justified the 78 day bombing campaign and takeover of Kosovo, the War Crimes Tribunal has issued a new report. writer Jared Israel takes that report apart, limb from limb; click here -Spinning the Kill: Albright's Tribunal Hastens to Save a Lie - or go to

For an excellent introduction to the background on Kosovo, click on Ms. Jonstone's Yugoslavia: Seen Through a Dark Glass or go to

For Ms. Johnstone's critique of Western claims that Yugoslav media is unfree, see Media in Serbia or go to

If you would like to read other articles please click here or go to