June 10, 2000 International Tribunal for U.S./NATO warcrimes in Yugoslavia
MEDIA ON TRIAL
By Lenora Foerstel
Lenora Foerstel from Maryland of Women for Mutual Security participated in tribunal hearings in New York, Washington, Berlin and Rome. She has recently edited a book, War, Lies and Videotape, about the control of the media, and her presentation is about the propaganda campaign the U.S. and NATO waged to win public support for the aggression against Yugoslavia.
Racism has always been used by those in power to divide communities and nations in order to gain economic control. Slavic hatred was nourished by Nazi Germany in World War II, and a resumption of this racism emerged as the dismemberment of Yugoslavia proceeded during the 1990s. As this process unfolded, the medias demonization of the Serbian people was little more than a recycling of the Nazi race propaganda used during the 1930s and 1940s.
Once such demonization takes hold, any new ethnic slander is easily believed by the public. When the Bosnian Muslims blamed the Serbs for the February 5, 1994 attack on the Markale Market in Sarajevo, the news was sent around the world. However, when a UN report unequivocally concluded that the bombing of the market was carried out by Muslims, the correction was placed in the back pages of newspapers or ignored entirely.
Though government press controls have contributed to misinforming the public about the Balkans, the press itself has been responsible for an anti-Serb propaganda campaign under the banner of "journalism of attachment." This media virus has replaced the remnants of a once proud tradition of aggressive and objective war reporting with a neo-liberal sentimentalism that is vulnerable to unbridled manipulation.
Public relations firms have also played a major role in misinforming the public by sending out a steady stream of press releases to the American and European media, as well as to the United Nations, with the primary purpose of painting the Serbs as barbarians. Ruder Finn, a major PR firm, sent out reports that Serbian men had raped 50,000 Muslim women. This highly publicized report led women around the world to condemn Yugoslavia, and the Serbs in particular. A subsequent investigation by the United Nations revealed that 800 rapes occurred, and that they had been committed by Serbs, Croatians and Bosnian Muslims alike. Again, the correction went unnoticed by the media.
In 1995, the city of Srebrenica, a terrorist base for Islamic forces in Bosnia, was attacked by Serbian troops. The media reported the massacre of 8000 Muslim men, and the Serbs were immediately accused of a campaign of genocide. Such accusations brought pressure to put Serbian leaders on trial, and a War Crimes Tribunal, controlled by NATO and held in the Hague, proceeded to do just that. Nevertheless, the bodies from the alleged Srebrenica massacre have never been found, leading one to ask, on what did the tribunal base its charges of genocide? Three weeks after the battle of Srebrenica, Croatian General Agim Ceku led a devastating artillery bombardment of the Krajina, a Serb-inhabited region of Croatia. Nearly 250,000 Serbs were ethnically cleansed from the Krajina in advance of the Croat onslaught. Since the US had covertly aided the Croats in what was called Operation Storm, the massive Serbian tragedy went virtually unreported in the North American media, in contrast to the media blitz covering Srebrenica.
Despite the media drumbeat for war, Secretary of State Madeline Albright was having difficulty selling her plan for US and NATO intervention in Kosovo. In an effort to generate propaganda to further demonize the Serbs, Albright enlisted the aid of William Walker, the US head of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM). With the complicity of local Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) thugs, another media event was staged. Walker and an international team of journalists were led by members of the KLA to a gully at the edge of the village of Racak. Some twenty five bodies were found there, leading Walker and his KLA allies to accuse Serbian forces of committing another massacre. Walker suggested that many, many more bodies would soon be found, and on the basis of such speculation, new indictments were brought before the tribunal in the Hague against government officials of Yugoslavia. NATO scheduled an emergency meeting, and on January 19, 1999 Madeline Albright called for the bombing of Yugoslavia as punishment for these new and unverified crimes. Later evidence revealed that by the time Serbian forces had entered Racak, its civilian inhabitants had been evacuated. The only shootings which took place were between the Serbs and the KLA. Serbian authorities have always insisted that the dead found in Racak were KLA fighters killed in battle.
During the past year, investigations by 15 forensic teams from 15 different nations have examined one hundred and fifty of the 400 suspected mass grave sites in Bosnia and Kosovo. No massacres have been found, and people are beginning to ask, "Where are the bodies?" Yet the media campaign against the Serbs continues unabated. In this regard, we need to heed the chilling words of James Harff, head of Ruder Finn, the PR firm that orchestrated the medias campaign against the Serbs. "We know quite well that only the first message is important," said Harff. "Subsequent denials have no effect whatsoever."
back to schedule and presentations