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Biased Balkan TV Helps Forge Differences

Croatian current affairs program "Puls Hrvatske" ("Croatian Pulse.")
The managing board of Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) apologized on May 23 for "insults, slander and hate speech" in its programs in the early 1990s.

A statement on the website of the TV and radio outlet said the apology was meant for "the citizens of Serbia and neighboring countries."

RTS's managing board noted that that TV propaganda had "hurt the feelings, moral integrity and dignity of the Serbian citizens, intellectuals, members of political opposition, journalists, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as certain neighboring peoples and states.".

A recent RFE/RL report told the story of two young friends, Arijana and Tesnima, who live in the Bosnian village of Bocinje, around 170 km northeast of Sarajevo.

Nothing unusual for 10-year-old girls, but Arijana is an Orthodox Serb and Tesnima is a Wahabbi Muslim.

When an RFE/RL reporter asked them how they identify Christian and Muslims, Tesnima said: "I wear a headscarf and she does not!" Arijana added: "But I do respect her headscarf and we all should!"

Arijana and Tesnima, fortunately, do not watch political TV shows. Otherwise they could not be close friends and their relationship would be filled with acrimony.

A serious Bosnian crisis over a referendum announced by Bosnian Serbs on the competencies of judicial institutions and the High Representative for Bosnia ended earlier this month with the visit of Catherine Ashton, the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs.

She convinced Milorad Dodik, president of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska, to give up on the referendum idea.

"60 Minutes," a TV show aired in Sarajevo, described Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik's deal with EU foreign-affairs chief Catherine Ashton as a "capitulation."

Naturally, local TV stations devoted their talk shows to the resolution of the crisis.

I watched all of them, and have come to the conclusion that the local media, and the proprietors who control them, work to create new crises.

As war 20 years ago in the former Yugoslavia was provoked by the media, so are the new crises today.

The talk show "60 Minutes," aired in Sarajevo by Federation TV, described the deal that Ashton reached with the Republika Srpska leadership as Dodik's "capitulation."

Not Journalism But Propaganda

The program editorialized by saying "We are sorry to see Dodik so concerned, depressed and humiliated. Where is his famous aggressiveness? The famous effrontery was lost. What happened to his primitive disdain? The threat of replacement was the only thing that could transform Dodik from a verbal barbarian into a scared boy!"

The vocabulary of the show's moderator is not befitting that of a proper journalist, of course. It is that of a propagandist.

Nobody from Dodik's side was given a chance to express their opinion. A segment featuring discussion from the United Nations Security Council meeting on May 15 showed statements from the UN High Representative for Bosnia and extracts from the statements of the US and UK ambassadors. No word was heard from the Russian ambassador.

The same evening, a talk show called "Presing" ("Press Briefing") was aired on Republika Srpska TV. The guests from Banja Luka and Belgrade praised Dodik for an excellent job.

Characteristic statements from those who dominated the show included the following: "This is the first time somebody from the EU came to praise us!"; "Republic Srpska became an EU partner!"; "UN High Representative has been marginalized!"; "Dodik proved to be a great statesman!"; "We are proud of our president!"; "This is our victory!"

After watching this talk show, a viewer would have got the feeling that the president of Republika Srpska managed to achieve a great victory over the United States, the High Representative and a majority of European Union countries.

"Even the international media report that Republic Srpska, for the first time, made good decisions," said a representative of Dodik's party.

Nobody dared to ask the obvious question: If these were the first good decisions, who made all the bad ones?

Finally, I watched a Croatian TV program called "Puls Hrvatske" ("Croatian Pulse.")

Here are some representative quotes: "The Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina (SDP) chooses good Serbs and Croats thanks to Muslim votes!"; "SDP is a Muslim party that uses its civic society-type declarations as a cover!"; "Bosnia has never been a state as a result of internal agreement and its existence has always been forced by foreign powers!"

When one of the studio guests addressed the strongest party of Bosnian Croats, (HDZ) and told them: "You share responsibility because you have been in power for 20 years," he received the following answer: "You hate Croats!"

Nobody from the SDP got a chance to express their opinion.

Us And Them

All of these television stations are public institutions yet all three of them serve distinct political and, even worse, parochial ethnic interests. But they are funded by all citizens.

Every day, every hour and every minute, these stations tell their views about "us" against "them." "We" are always right; "they" are always wrong. "We" are always for democracy; "they" are "always" on the opposite side.

"We" and "they" divisions have been deliberately forged and forced upon citizens of the western Balkans, who have been given little chance to make conclusions based on facts.

The media is preparing new crises; the very same way they prepared for war 20 years ago. Serbian TV admitted this is exactly what they had been doing. But there have been no consequences for any editor or political leader. The current Serbian RTS manager is known for promoting hate speech in 1990s.

At some point Arijana and Tesmina, the best friends from the beginning of this story, will start watching TV talk shows and become suspicious of each other.

Wearing a headscarf will not be respectable among Orthodox Christians, and those who do not wear them will become enemies of Muslims.

Their friendship will be lost.

Nenad Pejic is an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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