Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

International Justice/ICTY: Feb ‘09

Regional journalists say IWPR radio show is helping promote reconciliation in the Balkans.
By IWPR
A regional broadcaster in Serbia said that IWPR radio programme Facing Justice had helped him develop an interest in the effect of the Balkans conflict on people from other former Yugoslav countries.


This programme, which is produced in cooperation with Radio Free Europe, RFE, sets out to inform the public in an impartial manner about the legal processes at the Hague tribunal and national courts in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.


Branko Vuckovic, editor-in-chief of Serbian station Radio Kragujevac, said it had encouraged people to face up to their recent past and war crimes that were committed.


“I must admit that my interest in prosecuting war crimes suspects was limited to those from the ‘Serb side’ – the cases in which the accused were members of Serb forces and paramilitary units,” he said.


“After listening to Facing Justice for a few months, I became interested in the ‘other side’ as well, and began to understand the complexity of investigations and the process of prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.”


Novka Ilic, editor-in-chief of Serbian Radio Uzice, commended Facing Justice on its objective approach to the sensitive subject of war crimes reporting.


“All information can influence people… and if we want [this to be in a positive way], then it has to be presented objectively and in a non-partisan manner, the way Facing Justice reporters do it,” he said.


Vladimir Nikitovic, a reporter with Dzoker Radio in the Serbian city of Cacak, said he particularly liked the fact that Facing Justice covered war crimes trials taking place in all countries in the former Yugoslavia.


The journalists who prepare the programme are very well-informed, he added.


“Although talking about war crimes is often unpleasant, this programme has proven to be an excellent tool for reaching a great number of people and providing them with news and analytical reports on this important subject,” he said.


Also in February, an ICTY project report that the Hague tribunal had granted permission to former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic to be interviewed by a Dutch reporter from his cell prompted debate in the region.


As the IWPR piece Court Lets Karadzic Talk to Journalist, highlighted, this was the first time in its history that the court will allow a defendant to give a media interview.


Karadzic wrote to the tribunal in October last year requesting permission to give a face-to-face interview to the press inside the United Nations Detention Unit, UNDU.


However, the court’s registry initially rejected his request, saying that allowing a journalist into the UNDU constituted “a real threat to the safety and security” of the prison, while “the possibility of sensational reporting” could interfere with the administration of justice.


On appeal, however, tribunal vice-president Judge O-Gon Kwon overruled the registry, saying that although the journalist could not enter the prison, Karadzic could contact her by letter or telephone.


The decision – which was reported by the project on February 13 – provoked contrasting reactions in the region.


Sociology professor Ivan Sijakovic, who read the IWPR report, was outraged by the court’s decision, which he said made a mockery of the justice system.


“What kind of a prison is this when a detainee is allowed to talk to journalists? Isn’t the whole point of detention to isolate a suspect from public life?” asked Sijakovic, from the city of Banja Luka in Republika Srpska.


He pointed out that the accused would have an opportunity to present his arguments in court, along with facts and evidence to support his case.


“The media should not be asking to interview either Karadzic or any other suspect or convict, because that means interfering with the judiciary system,” he concluded.


Professor of Constitutional Law in Mostar, in the southern region of Herzegovina, Nurko Pobric, agreed, saying the tribunal’s decision to allow the interview was not justified.


“Karadzic should tell his side of the story in the courtroom, not in the media. The media should inform public about the process against Karadzic taking place in The Hague, not fish for ‘exclusive’ interviews,” he said.


President of the Social Democratic Union in Belgrade Zarko Korac warned that the tribunal’s decision to grant Karadzic’s interview with a Dutch reporter “will only enable the defendant to promote his views and influence the public opinion, and, indirectly, the court itself”.


He said that the decision violated the basic principles of the court’s impartiality, and added that Karadzic had had ample opportunity to present his views in the past.


“During his political career, the defendant gave hundreds of interviews, in which he presented his views and explained his actions, and that makes the tribunal’s decision even harder to understand,” he said.


“The media will approach people in the spotlight – as Karadzic is now – for an interview, but it’s up to the court to draw a line and turn down such requests.”


Biljana Kovacevic Vuco, president of the Serbia’s Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, also criticised the tribunal’s decision to allow Karadzic to talk to the media from his prison cell.


“Of course it's important to give Karadzic an opportunity to present his side of the story, but that should be done in the courtroom,” he said.
However, not everyone agreed.


Milos Solaja, from the Center for International Studies in Banja Luka, says the court’s decision was justified.


“From the legal point of view, Karadzic is still just a suspect and nobody should treat him as a convict until the judgement is handed down. I think every person should get an opportunity to present their views in public,” he said.


“The question is only whether that person will try to use the media for self-promotion or some other purpose. That is, of course, hard to predict, but we must give him a chance and the rest is up to him.”


Director of the Centre for Human Rights in Sarajevo Sasa Madacki sees no problem in the tribunal’s decision, pointing out that because Karadzic is representing himself, he doesn’t have a legal representative to speak to the media on his behalf as other defendants do.


“We have to respect his human rights. Of course, it would be much better if a media organisation specialised in reporting on war crimes, such as IWPR, for example, interviewed Karadzic, because the possibility of making a mistake and letting him use the interview for self-promotion would be minimal, he said.


Srecko Sekeljic, co-founder of Serbian organisation Europe Has No Alternative, agreed with Madacki.


“Unless there are strong indications that Karadzic’s communication with the media would endanger the process against him, there is absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t be allowed to give interviews,” he said.


“His possible self-promotion is not a good enough reason, except if it were used to manipulate the trial.


“I believe that the court’s decision to allow him a strictly controlled contact with the media was made only after careful consideration.”

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