By Biljana Pekusic
Last month, the Serbian war crime prosecutor’s office published a report about the ongoing investigation into some Serbian journalists, concerning their alleged role in inciting war crimes in the 1990s.
In “Words and Misdeeds: Calling or Inciting to War Crimes in Serbian media in 1991 and 1992”, “We announced a concrete example, the causes and consequences, and general analysis of the then society,” Deputy War Crimes Prosecutor Bruno Vekaric told SETimes, adding that the investigation still lacks some details required to begin court proceedings.
Since the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists (NUNS) published a crime report in July 2009, some journalists are being investigated for their professional conduct in the early 1990s, and their responsibility for the crime of inciting to commit genocide and war crimes.
After inspecting extensive media coverage of the early 1990s, the prosecution says media propaganda in the former Yugoslavia was a prelude to the ensuing armed conflict.
“The goal of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime propaganda was completely to dehumanise opponents in the armed conflict, often threatening their right to life,” Serbian chief War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told SETimes. He adds these are factually and legally complicated crimes, but it is important to prosecute those who took part in them.
Although in Serbia it is widely known that most local media during Milosevic’s regime were part of the war machine, the Court of Honour of the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) excluded eight chief editors from its membership in 2000 due to their conduct at the time.
Current UNS Secretary General Nino Brajovic was a reporter with Radio Television of Serbia covering the battlefields of Vukovar.
At the time, he publicly congratulated former Yugoslav People’s Army officer Veselin Sljivancanin for the “liberation of Vukovar”. Sljivancanin was later convicted of war crimes by The Hague tribunal. Today, Brajovic says he feels no responsibility for his coverage at the time.
“There is an impression that the special prosecutor’s office is not completely at ease and that their conclusions are lightly-founded, and that they are careful not to turn something that was media lynching in the past to legal lynching today,” Brajovic told SETimes.
Among the most extreme examples of war agitation in Serbian journalism was news of the “massacre of 41 Serbian children” in the Borovo elementary school, near Vukovar, published on November 20th 1991. Although it was quickly discovered that this news was a fabrication, some in Serbia still believe it to this day.
“I believe it happened, but the Croats — with the help of Western supporters — managed to conceal the crime and call it a lie,” Belgrade resident Budimir Stosic, a supporter of the Serbian Radical Party, told SETimes.
NUNS President Vukasin Obradovic says that the criminal complaint filed by the association failed to sufficiently raise the issue of moral responsibility among the Serbian public.
“Unfortunately, other nationalities that spilled their blood are still today at the centre of Serbia’s public attention, instead of Serbs from BiH and Croatia, who now teach patriotism and defend Serbs from Kosovo,” Obradovic told SETimes.
After the Milosevic regime collapsed, only a few editors and journalists were fired from their posts. However, court proceedings were initiated due to “unlawful dismissal”; those same journalists got big cash bonuses, and many were reinstated.
Miljana Baletic is one such example. The TV Novi Sad war reporter is remembered for her coverage from the first front lines in Dubrovnik and Vukovar, and was calling the Croatian Army “Ustasha slaughters” in her reports.
“Many Serbian journalists from the Milosevic era should be [barred from] the profession, but I think some journalists in BiH and Croatia also,” Darko Igić, a Belgrade sports coach told SETimes.