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Contemporary Journalism -> FR Yugoslavia (Serbia)
THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL IN THE PRESS IN SERBIA
13.11.2002: Larisa Rankovic

So far as the coverage of current events is concerned, local press routinely re-publishes agency news and reports, and the statements given by local protagonists or Tribunal officials, international community representatives, trial lawyers and others. However, the differences among newspapers emerge in the presenting of general attitudes concerning the significance of making the indictees face the Tribunal; these differences are visible in two basic points: culpability related to the crimes committed, and future (primarily economically-political) development of the country, which can hardly happen if cooperation with the Hague is lacking. Furthermore, pretty high levels of opposition to The Hague Tribunal, or the criticism concerning major part of its procedures or leading personalities are generally present, too. The differences among newspapers remain determined mostly by the selection of interviewees, topics of articles and viewpoints on certain issues.

 

The analysis of printed media in Serbia, covering these issues for the period between 21 September and 20 October, conducted by Ebart/Media Documentation (Belgrade), shows some of the characteristics of newspaper coverage of the Hague processes.

The events characterising the work of the Tribunal during this time period are the following: Tribunal requests to Croatia to extradite Janko Bobetko, and its refusal to do so; guilty plea by Biljana Plavšiæ; testimony by Belgrade journalists Dejan Anastasijevi and Jovan Dulovi in the trial to Slobodan Miloševiæ. Each of these events focused enormous attention of printed media and caused numerous, always highly diverse reactions. Therefore, a great number of articles publicised during the month concerned does not come as a surprise: the total of 848, among 2556 articles archived in the period July – end of October. The analysis covered daily newspapers (Blic, Danas, Dnevnik, Glas Javnosti, Nacional, Veernje Novosti and Politika), weeklies (Blic News, Ekonomist, Nin, Reporter and Vreme), as well as the news by Radio B 92, publicised in their Internet Site.

 

A great majority among the published texts assumed a neutral stance (525), as their prevailing genres were news and reports, and over a half fell on agency texts. However, the texts presenting viewpoints on cooperation with the Tribunal (either in Serbia or in Croatia) are usually negatively profiled.

 

This group includes statements by the Federal Ministry of Justice, which say that FRY will not recognise any new indictments from The Hague, and that previous cooperation with The Hague has been “flawless” (Novosti, 1 October). The block titled “The People’s Voice” in Nacional, issue of 17 October, publicised the following statement: “At times of Tsar Lazar, his name was Vuk Brankovi[1],

and now his name is Protected Witness”. In its issue of 8 October, Veernje Novosti conducted a survey among historians, titled: “Are The Hague and Carla Ponte attempting to write our new history?” On the other side, the appeal by non-governmental organisation Women in Black, publicised on 13 October in B 92 Site, states: “All indictees should face The Hague”, adding: “There is no relativisation, equalisation or adjustment that can mitigate a crime … Failure to punish crimes gives ground for fascisation of the country, and we are witnessing the growth in such tendencies.”

 

As much as the topics are concerned, a great majority of texts deals with the trial to Slobodan Miloševiæ: 334. The stance prevailing in these texts is neutral (in 243 texts, i.e. 72 percent), eight texts (or two percent) assume affirmative stance, while 83 among them (or 25 percent) are negative.

 

The journalists of weekly newspaper Vreme – Dejan Anastasijeviæ (mentioned in 27 texts) and Jovan Duloviæ (in 19 texts) – who witnessed in the trial against Miloševiæ, were another cause of conflicting reactions in the publicity, among politicians and among their colleagues. In its 16 October issue, Politika writes that witnesses “should not jump into that role, only to immediately publicise all their insider experiences in newspapers”; in the 18 October issue of the same newspaper, Ljubodrag Stojadinovi wonders: “Are we, the journalists, witnesses in front of the readers, or in front of courts? Is it possible to do both, or our striving to always cling to the truth, whatever it were, remains confidential in front of court councils only?” Dragojub Žarkoviæ, editor in Vreme, poses the dilemma in yet another way: “Has a journalist, who witnessed crimes in a hundred texts he wrote, the right to refuse the summons from the Hague, pretending he is ‘not from here’ at a later stage, and out of some professional principles of his own”.

 

In addition, the local media also paid much attention to the Tribunal request to Croatia to extradite General Janko Bobetko, and its refusal to comply. This issue was covered in 186 texts. This process has caused huge controversies in Croatia, and they are included in the writing of Serbian press, too. For that reason are the numbers of neutral and negative texts almost equalised.

In addition to reporting on events in Croatia, and the requests by the Tribunal, European Union and the USA, our press also publicised maliciously tainted texts about the problems Croatia is faced with. In his column in Nacional on 5 October, Bogdan Tirnani writes: “So, the bear has now begun its dance[2] in front of Ivica’s house, too! Carla del Ponte, the evil witch of our common (blood-soaked) fairy-tale is requesting urgent extradition of retired General Janko Bobetko, the oldest walking anti-fascist and anti-democrat in the world (…). Now when I have already tackled the subject, let me remind the readers that my attitude toward Croatia remains simple: cold contempt and happy indifference”. On 26 September, Glas Javnosti publicised an article with the above-title piece reading: “How General Janko Bobetko Recommended Himself to The Hague”. The subtitle of the same text reads: “Memoirs, Boasting, Parading and Showing Off Brought Him Right to the Indictment”.

 

Biljana Plavšiæ drew great media attention both in Serbia and in the world by her decision to change her plea into guilty. The newspapers covered by the analysis publicised 51 texts on this issue.

 

Explicitly negative reactions were few, while some of the texts viewed her act as “classical deal-making and trade” (Mirko Šaroviæ, President of Republika Srpska – Dnevnik, 4 October), and that her guilty plea was “ugly and sad” (Željko Pržulj, author from Dobrinja – Novosti, 6 October). Statements, which could be characterised as neutral, viewed her decision as a “personal act” (Dragan Kaliniæ, President of SDS – Novosti, 4 October) and that Plavšiæ’s decision “will be of no consequence for Republika Srpska whatsoever” (Mladen Ivaniæ, RS Prime Minister – B 92, 3 October). The statement by the Fond for Humanitarian Rights, publicised in most newspapers, emphasised that her decision was a “good move” (Novosti, 4 October), representing a “reconciliation way in the neighbourhood” (Dnevnik, 4 October).

 

Larisa Rankovi, Media Analyst in Ebart/Media Documentation, Belgrade. Media Online 2002. All rights reserved.

 

 


[1] Vuk Brankovi: the infamous betrayer of Serbs in the 14th century Kosovo Battle.

[2] “Bear dancing in front of a house”: adversity approaching a place.

 
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