Milosevic Propagandist in the Dock

The Milanovic case highlights the propagandist role played by regime journalists during the Milosevic years

Milosevic Propagandist in the Dock

The Milanovic case highlights the propagandist role played by regime journalists during the Milosevic years

Wednesday, 21 February, 2001

Dragoljub Milanovic, the Milosevic-era director of Radio and Television Serbia, RTS, was arrested last week in connection with the death of 16 of his staff during a NATO air strike nearly two years ago. He is the first official of the deposed regime to be brought to justice.

Milanovic, who is to be detained for up to a month, is expected to be charged with responsibility for the deaths of the RTS employees.

Many here are bitter that Milanovic is behind bars, while his former boss Slobodan Milosevic sits comfortably in his villa in the posh Belgrade suburb of Dedinje.

It is alleged that Milanovic knew the RTS building was going to be targeted by NATO planes; that he took neither steps to evacuate staff nor inform them that they were in imminent danger. In fact, the employees were threatened with the sack unless they worked throughout the bombing of Belgrade.

Speaking about the incident during her recent visit to Belgrade, Carla Del Ponte said Milosevic and his regime knew in advance that RTS would be bombarded; that they sacrificed its employees, convinced their death would reverse international public opinion and that this would not be too high a price to pay.

Milanovic, a senior official in Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, turned RTS into the private property of the former Yugoslav president and his wife Mirjana Markovic. During Milanovic's term as a head of RTS, the station pumped out madness and propaganda. Long before the NATO bombardment, Milanovic had become, probably against his will, the Serbian Goebels: ready to lie at all cost, ready to carry out his party's every wish.

Such was the public's contempt for him, that during the October Revolution furious demonstrators set upon him in the RTS parking lot, lashing out with their legs and fists in full view of TV cameras. He was saved from being lynched by some RTS employees who preferred to see him tried for his alleged crimes.

The case against Milanovic is very serious. He is likely to be charged with endangering public security. If convicted, he carries a prison sentence of between three to 15 years.

However, one of the most interesting aspects of this whole saga is the question of whether Milanovic or indeed any other journalists loyal to the former regime will eventually be accused of war crimes.

During Milanovic's tenure as head of state television, the channel spread incessant racist, religious and nationalistic hatred against Croats, Muslims and especially Albanians. This was at the very core of its editorial policy.

For years, RTS viewers watched what can only be described as fascism. Calls for extermination and revenge and the justification of war crimes were all an integral part of the output.

Milanovic's predecessor, Milorad Vucelic, once Milosevic's favourite, must not be forgotten either. Vucelic, RTS head during the fiercest fighting in Croatia and Bosnia, was also deputy president of the SPS for a period.

Vucelic and Milanovic were probably at the forefront of the mass poisoning of viewers' minds. But others also played a part. After the October Revolution, many of the journalists who for years wrote fascistic articles continue to work as if nothing had happened. Once they lauded Milosevic, now they praise Kostunica. But how much have they really changed? Some joined protesters who rallied against the detention of Milanovic. "You have betrayed Serbia", "You have sold-out freedom", read their placards - slogans similar to those at recent Far-Right street protests in Croatia.

The Milanovic case, I am afraid, will be used to help convict Milosevic rather than nail the numerous journalists who willingly participated in the former president's propaganda war.

No-one is questioning the role of those newspaper and TV journalists who wrote sinister and evil articles calling for all Albanians to be killed, all Muslims exterminated, all Croats destroyed.Far from coming under scrutiny in the wake of Milosevic's overthrow, Vucelic has been allowed to relaunch his career. He founded a new political party which took part in the republican elections last December (fortunately he did not win a single seat).

A collective amnesia has descended on Serbia. The savage reputation of Serbian journalism was not one man's responsibility.Petar Lukovic is a leading Belgrade columnist and regular IWPR contributor

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