Part Five


The "fair play" of the Chicago Tribune

On February 15th, 1992, the daily Chicago Tribune in an editorial stated inter alia: They [Croats] changed the constitution to render Serbs virtual non-citizens, for example, and banned the Cyrillic alphabet, used by Serbs but not Croats. ("For Croatia, help and challenge," editorial, The Chicago Tribune, February 15, 1992, p. 12.)

This is incorrect information: articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia guarantee equal rights to all the citizens and national minorities of Croatia.

Article 14

Citizens of the Republic of Croatia shall enjoy all rights and freedoms, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, education, social status or other properties. All shall be equal before the law.

Article 15

Members of all nations and minorities shall have equal rights in the Republic of Croatia. Members of all nations and minorities shall be guaranteed freedom to express their nationality, freedom to use their language and script, and cultural autonomy.

(The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia Prepared by Dr. Ljubomir Valkovic (Zagreb, 1991), p. 35. Italics are added)

So whence the "news" about the "banning of the Cyrillic alphabet" and "Serbs virtual non-citizens".?

Journalistic ethics demand that the public be informed, not disinformed. Richard Liefer of the Chicago Tribune is writing about the Croatian Constitution, but he seems not to have read the Constitution itself. Or is some 'kitchen translation' of the Croatian Constitution in circulation again? The Chicago Tribune editorial continues: The United Nations Security Council will act next week to authorize a UN peacekeeping force for Yugoslavia, where a tenuous cease fire has sharply curtailed fighting between Serbs and Croats in Croatia. (...)

Just as all the main parties to the war had to marshal the will to embark on peacemaking, so they must next summon up the commitment and good faith to ensure that peacekeeping succeeds.

Regrettably, neither is overabundant in a couple of crucial leaders. One is Milan Babic, president of Krajina, an ethnic Serbian enclave in western Croatia. An opponent of the UN plan, he warned darkly this week that "large casualties" would follow the peacekeepers' arrival.

The more important leader, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, has been sending mixed signals about the UN plan: criticizing it to journalists while pledging support to diplomats.

("For Croatia, help and challenge," p. 12.)

Is this too an example of the "balanced" approach according to which one must criticize Tudjman a little bit, and Milan Babic a little bit (as if Babic were the main factor in the war theater)? Interestingly, Liefer does not mention Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at all.

After four months and seven letters of mine to the Chicago Tribune, I finally received a cordial letter written on July 8, 1992, in which the Editorial Page Editor, N. Don Wycliff, elaborates on the February 15 editorial's statements:

Dear Mr. Knezevic:

Mr. Liefer has acknowledged that the statements about which you inquired were, in fact, misstatements. He has explained to me the source. I do not feel obligated to share that explanation with you or to demand that he do so. If this response is unsatisfactory, I am sorry.



Although Mr. Wycliff was certainly under no obligation to reveal anything more than he stated in his letter, my satisfaction was purely moral, since the Chicago Tribune did not publish any correction of Mr. Liefer's "misstatements." And the Chicago Tribune

is committed to accuracy, honesty, fair play and the well-being of our community. Those are the standards to which we hold ourselves and by which we ask you to judge us. If you think we have failed to meet them, we want you to tell us. Please address your concerns to the Public Editor, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan, Chicago, IL 60611.

(Chicago Tribune, Editorial page.)

If Mr. Wycliff himself had the time and resources to check the contents of all editorials before publication, this "accuracy, honesty, [and] fair play" might be more complete.