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Yugoslavia: The Damage Caused By Hate Radios

London, 16 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A recent report says that media in the former Yugoslavia, particularly in Serbia, but also in Croatia, bear a responsibility for whipping up ethnic hatreds from the early 1990s on. It says their message of "hatred" helped trigger the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.

The report says radio and TV stations in former Yugoslavia were used by the warring factions to further their aims, and are widely blamed for the resulting massacres and "ethnic cleansing."

The report, a survey of "hate and peace" radio and TV stations worldwide, was presented last month to an international conference of aid workers held in Geneva, Switzerland. It was prepared by Morand Fachot, a media analyst.

The report says that in former Yugoslavia, Serb TV was the first medium to start broadcasting a flow of negative comments on other Yugoslav republics, with frequent interviews of Serb nationalists. It then adopted a more robust campaign "aimed at raising fears of Croatia by showing footage of the Jasenovac concentration camp run by Croat Nazi sympathizers during the second World War."

The report says the campaign was aimed at gathering support for the Serb cause during the Serb rebellion in Krajina, a region which at the time had become part of newly-independent Croatia.

The report says in recent years media outlets in some countries have actively contributed to worsen existing tensions between and within countries by whipping up nationalistic feelings and ethnic hatreds. In recent years, their responsibility for starting many conflicts and savage massacres was clearly established.

It says: "Obvious examples of this are the prominent role played by the local media in justifying, supporting and sustaining the wars, genocides and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda."

The report says that, in 1990, Serb TV led a campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosova, falsely accusing them of "poisoning wells and slitting the throats of children."

The report contrasts the role of "hate media" and "peace media." Hate media could be defined as encouraging violent activities, tension or hatred between races, ethnic or social groups, or countries for political goals and/or to foster conflict by offering one-sided and biased views and opinions, and resorting to deception.

Conversely, peace media could be characterized as promoting peaceful conditions of life and resolution of conflict, or countering hate media, by presenting peaceful information, outlining issues fairly, and offering alternative sources of information.

But such descriptions, particularly those concerning "hate media" are fraught with difficulty. The report poses the question as to whether Soviet and East European broadcasters -- controlled by totalitarian regimes which openly advocated the demise of the western political system -- could be defined as "hate radios."

The report says the media have always played a major role in influencing internal or foreign policy. The London press, for instance, was influential in persuading a rather cautious British government to expand its influence in India and Central Asia to contain Russian expansion in the 19th century. The American newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, is often credited, rightly or wrongly, with having played a decisive role in the start of the Spanish-American war of 1898. He is said to have told Frederic Remington, an artist working for his newspapers in Havana: "You furnish the pictures and I furnish the war."

If hate media are not new, the appearance of broadcasting added a much more serious dimension, particularly in poor countries where much of the population is illiterate. The power of radio, and its potential dangers, is crucial in such societies.

The first known example of "hate radio" was in 1926 when a Canadian Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin (called the father of "hate radio"), started anti-Semitic broadcasts on a CBS network station in the U.S. Coughlin, who received 80,000 letters a week, took money from the Nazis. Private hate radios are "still active in the U.S."

The report says the ideology of hate radio is very reminiscent of Nazi Germany, which itself used radio broadcasts to whip up racial hatred and prepare the ground for the Holocaust.

Recent examples of hate radio have been the infamous Radio Mille Collines which played a key role in starting the genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of Rwandan people, mostly Tutsis.

Nowadays, "hate radios" often seem to appear where controls on radio broadcasting have been relaxed. Those operating such radios exploit their rights to freedom to "spread their message of hatred." This highlights the need for proper independent national and international bodies to regulate the use of broadcasting bands.

How to counter hate radios? Some argue for "negative" measures such as jamming frequencies, others for "positive" measures such as broadcasts nullifying or mitigating the message of hate radios.

The report notes that in a recent book, the late George Urban, former director of Radio Free Europe, expressed regret that RFE never broadcast in his time to Yugoslavia. He was convinced that such broadcasts would have contributed to better understanding and less hatred between the nations forming the former Yugoslavia.

The report calls for national and international measures to counter the propaganda of hatred, a priority particularly in view of the emergence of new media technologies such as the Internet which are changing the way information is spread.