Excerpts from ANTO KNEZEVIC'S AN ANALYSIS OF SERBIAN PROPAGANDA
THE "BALANCED" APPROACH TO THE WAR IN CROATIA
American National Public Radio (NPR), in its most popular program "All Things Considered" on January 7, 1992, broadcast the "lead" headline: the downing of the EC observers' helicopter over Croatia. After reporting the killing of one Frenchman and four Italians, NPR presented George Bogdanich, from the "Serbian Media Center" (Chicago), to its listeners. Bogdanich "informed" his American listeners that the Serbs in Croatia are threatened; that it "emerges" from the Croatian Constitution that national minorities are second-class citizens; that flying the Croatian flag is the same thing for the Serbs as flying the Nazi swastika over Washington would be for Americans, and so on.
A similar comparison would later be made by the Deputy Serbian Information Minister in the London "Times": "How would the British Jewish community have reacted to the flying of swastika banners and the naming of streets after fascist leaders of the second world war?" (Nebojsa Jerkovic, "Serbian case for fairer treatment," The Times, February 25, 1992, p. 11).
However, the only Ustashe sign, applied to the Croatian flag during WWII, was a large letter U, a sign which nobody dreams of applying to the flag of the Republic of Croatia which consists exclusively of historical symbols of Croatia dating back to the tenth century. Therefore, the only element that could be compared to the Nazi swastika is not part of the Croatian flag. The statement that any streets in Croatia are being named after the fascist leaders is equally absurd and utterly false. It is true, however, that the actual Serbian flag, on the contrary, does not significantly differ from the Serbian flag used by the pro-Nazi regime during WWII, not to speak of the beautiful black flag of Chetnik units with the skull and two crossed bones clearly shown on many TV programs throughout the world, reporting the fall of Vukovar and similar Serbian glorious "victories." By the way, the BBC report on the fall of Vukovar let the world hear, unfortunately without understanding it, the song of the Chetniks pouring into the devastated city:
Slobo, Slobo, salji nam salate, Bice mesa, klacemo Hrvate. Slobo, Slobo*, a salad is just what we need, there shall be plenty of Croatian meat. (translated by Rina Obad-Slezic) *Slobo Slobodan Milosevic
In examining controversial political questions the American media usually talk with representatives of both sides in the conflict. This time, that was not the case: only G. Bogdanich spoke; not a single Croatian representative spoke on this program. How then is the NPR approach to the war in Croatia "unbiased" and "balanced?" The editors of the program evidently felt that the Serbian side was harmed by the very news that the Serbian-led Yugoslav Army had downed the helicopter. Therefore G. Bogdanich was invited to defend the Serbian side (and the fact that his defense was an attack on the other side had nothing to do with the program's editors). Therefore, a "balanced" approach would mean first reading the (factual) American news about the war in Croatia and then offering a Serbian interpretation of the war.
NPR usually presents the opinions of both sides in a conflict. Thus, President Franjo Tudjman, Dubrovnik mayor Pero Poljanic and others have spoken on the program "All Things Considered," acquainting the American public with events in Croatia. Their statements matched the news given on NPR. Representatives of the Serbian side have generally spoken not about events but about feelings (Serbian fear of persecution), about the general concepts of freedom and rights in Serbia (not mentioning Kosovo), and about "fascists" in Croatia. For example, the Serbian foreign minister V. Jovanovic stated in one interview a series of very controversial assertions because of which caused some listeners to complain in writing to NPR. However, the radio corporation did not reply to the complaints. After the conversation with G. Bogdanich many more letters were sent to NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. This time some of the letters of complaint made the argument which has the most weight in Western, democratic societies: if NPR continues to offer incorrect and unobjective reporting on the war in Croatia, then a part of its listeners will cease to give financial support to the local Public Radio stations. After this a reply came from NPR. I cite the letter of the Executive Editor of the program "All Things Considered," dated January 14, 1992:
Dear Sir or Madam,
Thank you for your thoughtful and also critical letter concerning our coverage of Yugoslavia. As you might expect, All Things Considered's coverage of the conflict in that country has produced many letters from across the political spectrum.
Some listeners believe we have been "too soft" on the Croatians. Others, like yourself, feel we have presented a "pro-Serbian" line in our coverage.
Let me assure you that NPR takes its journalistic responsibilities very seriously in covering this conflict. We believe that coverage includes the hearing from many different points of view. In the many hours of air time we already devoted to this story, we have broadcast reports, interviews and commentary reflecting a wide range of different opinions, positions and angles. We will continue to do so. But while airing these views, we endorse none of them.
As with other conflicts around the world, the war in Yugoslavia is highly emotional and we get a lot of conflicting information. While you may disagree with the views you hear in one particular story, we believe that over time in the cumulative daily programming there will be other reports or discussions acceptable to your own point of view.
We do not expect everyone to agree with all of our coverage. However, we do expect that careful listeners will come to appreciate the overall thoroughness with which we are addressing the many different and complex sides of this story.
The following conclusions can be drawn from NPR's reply. 1. It is very difficult to be unbiased and objective in this kind of situation. As soon as the expression "War in Yugoslavia" appears, the report is already adopting (perhaps unwittingly) the perspective of one side in the conflict. Belgrade speaks of "war in Yugoslavia," Zagreb speaks of "war in Croatia." Yugoslavia no longer exists, for months the war was fought exclusively on Croatian soil, and so the name of the conflict is not unimportant. No one calls the conflict in Moldova "war in the Soviet Union" or "war in the Commonwealth of Independent States."
2. The answer is impersonal. The listener is not "Sir or Madam, but an individual with a name and surname who co-finances NPR.
3. The answer is general. It does not respond to a single one of the many concrete questions of numerous listeners. That means that contact (communication) has not been made between NPR and its listeners. The answer is not an answer, but only the appearance of an answer, or rather a justification of the editorial conception of "All Things Considered." (At the same time, it should be mentioned that NPR probably lacks the financial resources that would enable it to respond to every letter from its listeners.)
4. Calling on the "emotional" side of the conflict is only an excuse. The listeners did not react because of some one's emotions, but because of factual errors which Bogdanich made in a public statement.
5. If NPR does receive contradictory reports about the conflict, that cannot be a justification for one-sided broadcasting and disinformation of the American public.
In any case, it appears that the activity of the "Serbian Media Center" from Chicago is not limited to the radio waves. It is surely no accident that one newspaper from the same city carries similar "truths," referring, like Bogdanich, to the Croatian Constitution.