Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
ANALYSIS: Serb Media Split Over The Hague
By Jovan Orlovic in Belgrade (TU No. 249, January 7-12, 2002)
The media in post-Milosevic Serbia are split over whether to send indicted
war criminals off to face trial at The Hague tribunal. Each group supports
one of two main political factions within the ruling DOS coalition and
faithfully reflects its every view.
One political faction pays lip service to the tribunal but resists the
handover of suspects. The other unconditionally supports cooperation with
the international court.
In Milosevic's day, all the press had to toe the same line. Now, at least,
they have two choices. Full media independence must await projected new laws on freedom of information and progress on this front is slow.
Print media with a built-in preference for hard line nationalism quickly
swung behind the more anti-Hague faction. They included the dailies Glas
javnosti and Vecernje and, to a lesser extent, Blic and Politika.
More liberal newspapers describe cooperation with the tribunal as an
international obligation. These are mainly nominally independent titles like the daily Danas, the weekly Vreme as well as radio B92.
Proceedings of the tribunal itself do not loom large in the media discussion on war crimes. Most attention is given to the views of the political factions which seize on individual developments at The Hague to promote their own interests.
The most outstanding example of this was the discovery in Serbia of mass
graves of Kosovo Albanians. Media coverage of this reached its peak when
rival politicians were arguing bitterly over whether to send former
president Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague. After Milosevic went, the
coverage retreated to inside pages.
Most people in Serbia have a sceptical view of cooperation with the
tribunal, regarding it as an enforced obligation that cannot be avoided.
The media largely reflects the public's view of the court, formed during the previous regime when all the more important media were strictly government controlled.
Although the media divide is highly noticeable, both sections agree that the tribunal is not a conduit to be used to fight for the rights of war victims. They do not report interviews with the families of those killed in outrages. The first to challenge this view was the televison channel B92 which rebroadcast the BBC documentary on the Srebrenica massacre, A Cry From the Grave.
The broadcast stirred up much heated discussion, but no support in the media for the Srebrenica victims and the suffering caused to relatives. Most
stories were confined to arguments about just how many people were killed
and questions about how many Serbs had died in the conflict. None of the
press subsequently attempted to investigate the crime. If anything the
broadcast benefited the anti-Hague factions who argued that all foreign
broadcasts were automatically anti-Serb.
Media coverage of the tribunal is mostly confined to reports issued by the
news agencies Beta and SENSE which have correspondents in The Hague. Most
newspapers and broadcasters do not send their own reporters although the
daily Pobjeda, radio B92 and as of recently, Radio Television Serbia,
occasionally dispatch representatives on brief trips.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, most of the media cannot afford to
maintain foreign correspondents. Secondly, there is a psychological urge to
maintain distance from the tribunal - media prefer relaying other people's
stories rather than digging out their own.
Tribunal proceedings are usually covered by short factual reports devoid of
analysis. The indictments against Milosevic were published verbatim without
any accompanying background or comment. Other indicted Serbian suspects
received similar treatment. However, Milosevic's first appearance in court
was accorded huge amounts of space with stories lapping up every detail,
emphasising the remark of his guard, Timothy McFadden, who called Milosevic
"a real gentleman".
The former president's subsequent appearances attracted far less attention. Surveys of public opinion showed that the final outcome of his trial is viewed as less important than current economic problems.
Media often publish articles about the two most wanted persons on the tribunal`s list, the Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Coverage ranges from fierce criticism of the two to unconditional support for their case. Stories backing the pair appear to outnumber those against them.
Another factor frequently explored in the media is the financial incentives
to cooperation with The Hague. Since the handover of Milosevic, speculation
has abounded on what happened to the money the US Congress pledged for the
arrest and transfer of Milosevic to The Hague. Glas javnosti has
suggested that members of the government have personally profited from the
Until the Serbian media start to provide more even-handed, analytical coverage of the tribunal, ordinary Serbs will continue to be deeply suspicious of the international court.
Jovan Orlovic is a media analyst in Belgrade.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.