|REPORTING THE STRIKES|
March 25, 1999
On the second day of NATO air strikes,
the Yugoslavian government expelled all Western journalists. Terence
Smith and guests discuss the challenges facing the media in reporting
the current conflict.
TERENCE SMITH: Even before NATO air strikes were underway in Yugoslavia, broadcast reporters, like CNN's Christiane Amanpour, were reduced to using the telephone to get their stories out.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN: Plainclothes policeman came to an international transmission facility at one of the hotels here, where we generally broadcast from and transmit our tape and other live information. They closed that down, took away vital pieces of information, which made it impossible to broadcast independently. And so we are now forced to do so through the state television services here in Belgrade.
TERENCE SMITH: Even that censored channel of communication was cut off when the bombing began.
TERENCE SMITH: Last night's network news broadcasts showed pictures provided by the state-controlled Serbian television and telephone reports from network correspondents on the ground.
CORRESPONDENT: The attack around the Kosovo capital Pristina began at a couple of minutes before 2 PM New York Time, when a loud explosion came from a distance away off to the Southeast.
|Expulsion of journalists.|
TERENCE SMITH: Some 30 Western journalists were rounded up from their Belgrade hotels last night and detained for a few hours. But they were released this morning and left the country after the Serbian government ordered the expulsion of all foreign journalists from NATO nations. Mobile convoys bound for Hungary, Croatia, and in some cases, Brussels, were seen along the roads today in Yugoslavia. In neighboring Macedonia, foreign journalists got caught in the crossfire of crowds protesting the NATO air strikes. At the end of the day, it was still unclear how much access the press will have to the events inside Yugoslavia.
TERENCE SMITH: Now, for more on the kind of reporting we can expect on this story, we turn to two editors who are coordinating the coverage. Philip Bennett is Assistant Managing Editor for Foreign News at the Washington Post. And Joshua Cooper Ramo is the Senior Editor in charge of international coverage at Time Magazine. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Phil Bennett, let me ask you first, how many people do the "Washington Post" have in Yugoslavia and what happened to them over the last 24 hours?
PHILIP BENNETT: Well, we have none as we talk now. We had two people there over the last week, Jeffrey Smith, who is based in Rome and covers the Balkans for us, and Peter Finn from Warsaw, who came down to assist. They both left today under slightly different circumstances. Mr. Finn was arrested from his hotel room at 4 in the morning in Belgrade and detained for about nine hours by the police before he was chauffeured to the border with Croatia and expelled. And Mr. Smith left this afternoon in one of the convoys you mentioned in your piece -- also to Croatia.
TERENCE SMITH: Joshua Cooper Ramo, what happened to the people from Time Magazine?
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: Well, we were able to get almost everybody out of the country. But just moments ago I got off the telephone with one of our men who is still in Belgrade. He is currently shuttered up in an apartment downtown where Serbian police are going door to door. He is with the editor of Vreme, which is the large newspaper inside Belgrade, and with several other Serbian journalists, some of whom have in his words, been beaten to a bloody pulp in the last half hour. He is very uncertain at this point of how he is going to get out. They are huddled down wearing bulletproof vests and, frankly, at this point just hoping to make it through the night.
TERENCE SMITH: Why did they stay behind?
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: Well, they stayed behind yesterday, I think, trying to figure out whether or not there was going to be any chance to get some reporting done today. They were not at the hotel where most of the journalists were. We made a calculated decision, based on their wishes, to move out on to the streets ever Belgrade yesterday. And they ended up getting stuck outside the hotel when it was surrounded, couldn't get back in. The bombing started and they were stuck out on the streets, and now they're confronted with what is a very difficult situation that we are employing all of our resources to try and rectify.
TERENCE SMITH: It's interesting, on contrast here, Phil Bennett, to the situation in Iraq during the recent military actions there and a few years ago. In this case, Western reporters seem to be labeled as enemies, as targets.
PHILIP BENNETT: Well, I think carries over from the way the Balkans war has developed over time and the type of reporting that people have been doing there, I think. This week we started getting threats to our reporters early in the week and it stemmed from a specific story we think they did on Sunday that was published on Monday in the Washington Post about a massacre of civilians in Kosovo that they were able to report, investigate, go to the scene and interview people. It's the kind of reporting that we've really never been able to do in Iraq. And I think that many viewers have an image of the kind of military operation that the United States and NATO are carrying out now based on their images that came from the rooftops of hotels like the one in Baghdad that presents an image of access to the event that, in the case of Iraq, never really existed. I think reporters in the Balkans and in Yugoslavia have been much closer to the story in some ways than we have been in Iraq.
TERENCE SMITH: Joshua Ramo, considering the difficulties that your people are still experiencing, do you expect that they will be able to return, that it will be safe to return?
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: To return to Belgrade you mean.
TERENCE SMITH: Yes.
|Returning to Belgrade.|
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: I think we'll have to see. The most dangerous situations for journalists always are situations of chaos and uncertainty. And, obviously in the early stages of a campaign like this, there is a tremendous amount of both of those things. I think at this point it is too early to say what the long-term view of the government is going to be. As I believe you all reported earlier, there is a split or appears to be a split inside the government with some of the officials wanting to keep reporters in and others wanting to see them expelled. We'll have to see how that stabilizes.
TERENCE SMITH: Phil Bennet, what effect is this going to have on the coverage? In other words what should the American people expect to learn about this story, given the limitations that are being imposed?
PHILIP BENNETT: Well, I think what most concerns us today is many of the things that are happening inside Yugoslavia we will know at some point. I think what really troubles us today is when we will know them. There are reports coming out that there are 20,000 civilians being somehow detained in Kosovo by Serbian forces. They are being kept in a village. We're reading that among the refugees coming into Albania today there were only ten men. This suggests things going on there that we would naturally want to go after and try to figure out what's going on. Someday we may know that. We'll probably know it someday. We'd like to know it sooner. I'm concerned that the period that will pass now will be crucial time missed reporting.
TERENCE SMITH: Joshua Ramo, what do you think? What difference is it going to make whether reporters are able to go in there or not?
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: Well, I think right now we are missing crucial elements of the story and are trying best as we can to piece together what is happening. Clearly we've already seen a discrepancy in the kinds of reporting we've been able to get out of Kosovo in particular. Today just because we knew we were able to reach a large number of people by wireless phone early in the day, we were able to talk with people in the KLA organization, as well as several leading Albanian officials inside of Kosovo. And their descriptions were just nightmarish of the kind of atrocities that already appear to be going on there. Unfortunately, we had to move most of our people out with a large wave of refugees. And so there will be an entire piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing from our coverage. That may change as time goes on. As Phil was saying, we may be able to get back in. But right now, in terms of an emergent story, there is clearly an important piece of our understanding that's missing.
TERENCE SMITH: Phil Bennett, what about the flow of information from the other side of this conflict, from the Pentagon? Has that been forth coming?
PHILIP BENNETT: Well, you know, wars are difficult to cover on both sides. Although the situation is more stark and dramatic obviously in Yugoslavia, from Washington it's always been difficult. And I think we've seen an evolution in the Pentagon's ability and in the ability of the administration to hold briefings like the one people have been seeing over the last two days when useful information is very difficult to come by.
TERENCE SMITH: Joshua Ramo, is that your impression as well?
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: Absolutely. This is a story where many of our best Washington sources, many of our best -- most traditional ways of getting information are at this point coming up dry. And, again, I think a lot of that has to do with the emergent chaotic nature of the situation. We don't know how long the campaign is going to continue at this point and it makes it a little more difficult to get access.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, the question I guess becomes whether or not it's legitimate security concerns or news management.
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: Well, I think it's probably a combination of both.
TERENCE SMITH: Phil Bennett, what do you look forward to now? How are you going to cover this story?
PHILIP BENNETT: Well, our people, when they called us when they got out this afternoon, immediately were trying to figure out where to go next. We've had people in bordering states and we'll keep them there and we'll try to get back in. I think now we're calling back into the country and trying to reach sources that we have there and have spoken to them today, we'll continue try to do that. And we'll do the same sort of triangulation that we always do in these stories and that we'd be doing, in fact, even if we were still in Belgrade or Pristina.
TERENCE SMITH: Joshua Ramo, what is your approach going to be?
JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: Well, our plan will be very similar. We are continuing to staff the border regions and obviously we will be as aggressive as we possibly can in getting information from inside the country itself. We have put into place sort of proactively a fairly intricate stringer network in both places, both inside Greater Yugoslavia and inside Kosovo -- people we feel are reliable and who are natives who will stay there and hopefully continue to provide us with information. It's going to be a tough story to cover for the next couple of weeks. I don't think there's any question about that.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Gentlemen, we thank you both. We appreciate it.