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South Slavic: November 1, 2001


1 November 2001, Volume 3, Number 36

MEDIA AND WAR CRIMES: WILL THE GOEBBELS' OF THE BALKANS GET OFF THE HOOK?

This is Part II of a translation of a program by RFE/RL journalists Mensur Camo, Ivana Lalic, and Nebojsa Bugarinovic that was broadcast on 19 October 2001. Part I appeared on 25 October.

RFE/RL: You have already said that you do not regret a single word you ever wrote. However, do you think you were somehow compromised by belonging to Radio-Television Serbia?

Dmitrovic: ...What [some] people think about my work for Radio-Television Serbia from 1992 until the end of 1993 is that I was misused, or that I was serving Milosevic's policies. Gentlemen, please, the only thing I demand is that you point out where I was telling lies and where I was telling the truth. If it turns out that I was lying, I am ready to face the consequences. But I would like all of those with prejudice who want to go over my work to collect themselves in order to make a cool-headed analysis.

RFE/RL: So, is The Hague tribunal going to indict some journalists and editors for war crimes? We asked Florence Hartmann, the spokeswoman for the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte.

Hartmann: We have no documents about materials that urge people to kill. We are well aware of the role of media in all of this, and this is why in Milosevic's indictment you may read about the media as instruments in a criminal enterprise. But not separately, as it was in the case of Rwanda, where there was direct involvement of a director or ministers of information or propaganda, as well as some media houses and journalists.

We do not have complete knowledge about the media's activities [in the Balkans]. As a former journalist, I do know that many local media were involved in the war on the territory of former Yugoslavia.

Are we wrong to say that there was no direct incitement to kill? But on the basis of the materials the prosecution has right now, we cannot open a separate case [against the media]. And, one more thing: The Hague tribunal cannot investigate all the...violations of international humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia, and this is why we might not be able to investigate the media....

RFE/RL: Does the prosecution plan to start?

Hartmann: On the basis of the materials that we have, we are well aware of the role of the media, and this is why the subject was included in Milosevic's indictment as an instrument of a criminal policy. But the prosecution does not intend to investigate the media as a separate case, the way it was done with the Rwanda cases.

We have no necessary documents that would enable us to start such a procedure. If something turned up, the picture might completely change, on the basis of some new evidence we might receive. But again,...no one has allowed us access to the archives or other key resources that would make us think about a serious investigation of the media.

RFE/RL:Does it mean that if, for example, Belgrade Television invited you to investigate their archives, the tribunal would accept it? Or you would refuse, claiming that you do not have enough time, resources, or ambition to investigate?

Hartmann: We cannot single out any one of the media, since we do not want to accuse anybody of anything without evidence. The other thing is that this is 2001, the tribunal has existed since 1994, and we have to admit that resources are one of our problems. That means the people who work for us, as well as the time factor.

RFE/RL: But you did not answer my question.

Hartmann: Of course we are interested in the TV archives..., but there are many other things that are [more] important for the work of the tribunal.

RFE/RL: I put this question in the context of the conventional wisdom that there would not have been such wars in the Balkans if there had not been such media. It seems to me that, in the Balkans, quite an important role is attributed to the media that spread hatred and incited people to carry out crimes. Does Mrs. Del Ponte share this opinion about the importance of the media in these bloody conflicts?

Hartmann: I understand, but I have no answer to that question. Does Mrs. Del Ponte see the things that way? A prosecutor always searches for individual responsibility. She is not a historian or a journalist. Do you understand me?

RFE/RL: Yes, but if Slobodan Milosevic is considered the one most responsible for the wars -- and Mrs. Del Ponte has said so many times -- why not tell what the role of the media was in them?

Hartmann: This is what we will see in the course of his trial....

RFE/RL: The head of the Yugoslav Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco, finds Florence Hartman's statements quite problematic.

Kovacevic-Vuco: The announcement that delighted us all here -- that the role of the media in provoking war is going to be investigated -- is not reflected in the statements of Florence Hartmann and the rest of The Hague tribunal.... I am talking about Serbia, where the media directly encouraged war, hate, and xenophobia.

We were all "bombed" by the media statements that called on us to hate each other and eventually to kill. This war could not have been waged without the media's logistical support. At the same time, in so many cases, the media even announced in advance what was going to happen....

According to the Statute of The Hague tribunal, and according to our penal code, an incitement to hatred, killing, genocide, or war represents a crime against humanity -- and has the same legal consequences for the perpetrator as an order [to kill] or an execution. This is why I see no obstacles for indictments to be issued for the designers of that policy of hate.

I feel free to say, as someone who saw it all, that what happened was not the result of people exercising their freedom of speech. Those were not [normal] media. That was propaganda machinery that served the purposes of war and hate.

As far as the legal aspect is concerned..., I find it easier to prove the responsibility of one of the media than, for example, the commander's responsibility among those who were issuing orders.

The point is that the Statute of The Hague tribunal lists which crimes are to be prosecuted, and one of them is a direct and public incitement to genocide. Any layperson who was reading newspapers at that time -- and especially those who were watching television -- would be able to make a sort of a provisional indictment against the editors or anchors of the main news program of Radio-Television Serbia -- since they really incited viewers to genocide.

RFE/RL: Florence Hartmann thinks that "if The Hague tribunal cannot investigate or has no time to investigate the media," local judicial systems might start those proceedings.

Hartmann: Legal proceedings can be instituted before national courts. We are repeatedly being asked: "Why do you not try this or that?" The Hague tribunal has no monopoly to prosecute. We do have priority in cases of violations of international humanitarian law.

However, if The Hague tribunal cannot do it, why do not national courts do it? The point is to prevent what happened here from happening again anywhere in the world, to prevent the use of media the way it was done here.

RFE/RL: But Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco thinks that the chances are quite remote for national war crimes trials against media people.

Kovacevic-Vuco: The writer Bora Cosic wrote about this in [the Croatian investigative weekly] "Feral Tribune." He gave the famous example of [Nazi propaganda film maker] Leni Riefenstahl, noting that so many Goebbels-like people got off the hook [after World War II] because they said they were simply carrying out their professional duties.

That is what I am afraid of.... I fear that so many Serbian journalists were convinced that they were simply doing their job professionally at a particular, extraordinary time.

To sum up, I am skeptical. I do not believe that our national legal system -- which to date has not been able to launch one single public and transparent legal proceeding for war crimes -- will be wise and courageous enough to indict the very designers of that policy: the media people.

That will remain our problem. I think that the fight against this false professionalism has still to begin here. Whoever finally starts it, it will not be the state.

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