Skip to main content
May 15, 1999
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 10-Special

Serbian Journalists Are Not For Hire

by Dragoljub Zarkovic

In his article in Wall Street Journal on April 27, 1999, professor Gene Secunda from New York University has justified the attack on Serbian Television and elaborated the theory that Serbian independent journalist should support NATO's plan to broadcast its own program to viewers in Serbia. Here's the response of our Editor-in-Chief

The Professor is evidently a victim of that which according to Baudrillard's interpretation of the world represents the liberation of technological advancement in which man, the maker of all that technology, becomes ultimately the object of all that advancement.  Everything is well figured out on a technological level: first NATO is supposed to destroy the broadcasting and production technology of the Serbian side in the war, then "a powerful network of television and radio stations is established on the Adriatic sea" as well as "in countries friendly toward NATO," then all signals are "up-linked to communication satellites which would send back the signals to transmitters in the neighborhood of Serbia"   and the technological circle would be closed in this way.  There is only one detail remaining: to find "known and respected journalists and commentators" which would tell "from Ljubljana" that which NATO thinks is good for Serbia.

However, before we go on to this huge detail, here are several observations.  I do not know Mr. Second and I have no personal motive for arguing with his attitudes.  However, it is quite clear that this war confronted the Serbian media and Serbian journalists, especially those who value their reputation, with certain challenges which need to be dealt with under conditions of official and unofficial restrictions resulting from the very fact that they are working in a country in which a state of war has been declared.  The basic question could be reduced to the solution of the following dilemma: does journalistic opinion uttered abroad carry the same weight as journalistic opinion uttered in Belgrade.
The answer is transparently simple: after that journalist would lend his voice to those who would apply it in the country, there would be nothing left of the assumed respect, reputation and trust which he has with the public.  The only thing that would happen is that the credibility of the journalists or the media (the text explicitly mentions Radio B92) would be ruined once and for all.

Let us see this in one example: a reputable Serbian journalists would get to cover the story of the bombing of the market and the hospital in Nis in which so many people got killed, and he says "well, everyone is entitled to a mistake now and then", that is to say, he would point out that NATO, after a certain amount of reticence admitted the error, that it regrets it, but that there is no war without casualties, going on to tell about the ill deeds of Milosevic's regime.  In that situation this hypothetical journalist would become clinically dead, everyone would turn their back to him once and for all, regardless of the outcome of the war, with every future report coming from him leaving everyone indifferent whether it is delivered by himself or by General Clark.

But, as I already wrote, the answer to such dilemmas is transparently simple, so much so that even the Professor must have understood this, so that all his support for hiring reputable journalists and media can only be judged by trite statements which are applied to every war and according to which the end justifies the means: in this case the destruction of the credibility of Serbian media is justified by the need to increase the efficiency of NATO bombing.  But I do not believe that the Professor is quite superficial and malicious as that.  It is more likely that he does not understand what is happening here, despite the fact that he is writing some book, as far as I can see, about media in Eastern Europe.

For before he embarked on slapping together this journalistic cookbook in which the main corse and the desert consists of the reputation of Serbian journalists, he should have informed himself of at least two facts: one, respected Serbian journalists are nearly unanimously against Milosevic's way of governing Serbia, and two, there is not a single journalists who did not warn that the bombing of Serbia will not solve any problems, but will only increase them, except that no planers of this war wanted to listen to those journalists (equally here and abroad), this being the usual fate of journalists.

For today a respected Serbian journalists would be forced to ask a list of questions which would ruing his "gig" with NATO, and with this I am not merely thinking of endlessly trite questions concerning "collateral damage", but above all questions of a political nature which are fairly logically connected: from questions why the KLA terrorists and separatists were supported in Kosovo, to whether NATO believes itself when it says that it accidentally targeted the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade...  In any case, the logic of confirmed information must give way to military logic, which the Professor admits indirectly.  Namely, the airplane which is presently broadcasting with low quality transmissions over Serbia, dubbed "Commander Solo", must do so because this is strategically necessary: translated into common language, it must give way to planes flying bombing raids, so that it turns out that the touching concern for the media air space over Serbia comes second after the primary objective, the destruction of Milosevic, with the rest of Serbia becoming a mere entry in the "collateral damage" inventory of this war.

I have been in this business for some time, and luckily I do not know any reputable Serbian journalist who would up-link to a transistor at a stall in the market in Nis.  But let me console the Professor: just as they would not believe news from some Ljubljana, Serbs also do not believe the news coming from the ruins of Serbia.  That is why both the propaganda which the Professor supports and the one he stands against are equally unproductive.  That is one of the absurd results of this war, which is also something reputable Serbian journalists warned about, journalists who are not likely to go for hire when they are deeply aware that they will only be able to serve their people and their public if they endure the pressure of both worldly and heavenly powers.

Dragoljub Zarkovic
Editor in Chief of VREME Magazine.  The author's work on a collection of reports broadcast on Radio Free Europe has been interrupted by the war.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.