War report

A SERBIAN freelance reporter working in London, Dragomir Olujic told the July LFB meeting how difficult life has been for journalists in his country. The situation of the media in Serbia was already extremely difficult, he said, before the NATO bombing - which served as an alibi for everything the Milosevic regime has been doing against the media in Serbia.

The of independent dailies and weeklies in Serbia already had small circulations and influence. The regime puts additional difficulties in their way, such as restricting newsprint supplies.

From the first day of the bombing, the Ministry of Information took control of the whole media space in Serbia. Each morning it held a briefing for all media editors - telling them what terminology they should use and what themes they should be stressing. About 40 pages of "guidance" text were given out each day.

Editors were ordered to report how 130-odd American planes had been brought down - without any photographic or other evidence. All copy also had to be submitted to the censor at 4pm - which meant they were always publishing old news. Distribution of Montenegrin and foreign newspapers was banned in Serbia.

Some sought to subvert the restrictions. Blitz, for example, tried to publish photographs of things which had happened, chosen to fit in with the officially approved texts. Newspapers such as Danas had to appear regularly - subject to censorship - during the bombing in order to get the registration necessary to appear afterwards. Some proposed that the paper should instead stop appearing as Danas (Today) and re-appear as Juce - Yesterday. All the best journalists were completely silent during the bombing.

Foreign journalists accredited in Belgrade were not allowed to do any work unless accompanied by Ministry of Information or military officers. So for the three months of NATO bombing there was complete media darkness in Serbia.

Dragomir asked the Branch to send an appeal for freedom to the Yugoslav authorities, and to encourage the NUJ to offer financial support to the independent media in former Yugoslavia. Even a small sum in sterling could be significant for people there, given the current real exchange rate. The Branch Committee will make sure that LFB is involved in any wider NUJ response to this appeal.

The bombing has, he said, left many Serbians feeling detached from the official political process, as much as it has "united" them. But Milosevic will, our colleague predicts, get up to new adventures unless the "silent Serbia" wakes up. This, he predicts, will be an expansion in the direction of Macedonia. The whole of Milosevic's policy has been to create issues which postpone the inevitable changes in Belgrade. He can still, Dragomir gloomily predicts, create such "issues" in Macedonia, Montenegro, Sandzak and Vojvodina. We will have to confront further war situations in the former Yugoslavia.

Jul/Aug 1999
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