|WAR ON THE WEB|
March 29, 1999
While the Western press has had a difficult time reporting from Yugoslavia, some independent Serbian news organizations have taken to the Internet to report on the story. Media correspondent Terence Smith and guests discuss the struggle to disseminate news and assess how independent the media still is.
TERENCE SMITH: Over the last several months, the Government of Slobodan Milosevic has cracked down hard on the independent Yugoslav media, fining some papers, closing others, and imposing rigid censorship. But technology in the form of the Internet has come to the rescue of some of the most fiercely independent organizations. Radio B-92, which has been a thorn in the side of the Milosevic government for years, had its Belgrade transmitter turned off last week, but it has continued to file live reports daily over the World Wide Web, including some in English.
B-92 REPORTER: Belgrade's day-long state-of- bomb alert finally ended at 7:40 PM. The city had been put on alert at 10:20 this morning. No strikes were reported in the Belgrade area during the day.
TERENCE SMITH: Last week, B-92 covered its own shutdown by the government and the detainment of its feisty editor in Chief, Veran Matic.
B-92 REPORTER: B92 was taken off the air at 2:50 this morning. Veran Matic, the station's editor in chief, was taken away by police, and arriving at the station, he was held for more than eight hours without questioning.
TERENCE SMITH: After his release, B-92 broadcast video of the editor's news conference via the Internet. B-92 is not the only Yugoslav news organization on the Web. The independent Beta Daily News was reporting that air strikes were continuing today. The Kosovar Press, a paper run by the Kosovo Liberation Army, is also getting its word out on the Web. Today it reported on what it said was a major massacre and followed up with a list of victims' names. And the Yugoslav government has its own Web site in which it describes what it calls the media war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At a news conference in Washington last week, Ann Cooper, director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, spoke of the struggles of the Yugoslavian independent press.
ANN COOPER: Now, I want to emphasize that's what's happening to the foreign correspondents there covering the conflict right now is what the independent Serb media has been living through for years now, and yet somehow they have survived, and they've survived because of their courage.
TERENCE SMITH: Besides courage, ingenuity has helped as well. Radio B-92 pioneered the Internet outlet in 1996. During anti-government street demonstrations, the radio was forced off the air, but continued broadcasting with a loudspeaker outside its Belgrade offices. During the 1996 shutdown, B-92 devised a system whereby it sent audio files to the BBC, which downloaded the files and rebroadcast them back into Yugoslavia. This actually increased B-92's reach, because the western broadcaster had stronger transmitters. Today B-92 is using an Internet provider in Amsterdam that sends its site to other mirror sites around the globe and to the BBC World Service, which is retransmitting it via satellite back to Yugoslavia. And for the last two days, an Austrian national radio station has been broadcasting B-92's reports over the air to Belgrade, the Balkans, and beyond.
The situation in Yugoslavia.
TERENCE SMITH: Now for more on the situation confronting the independent media in Yugoslavia, we turn to one Serbian journalist and two Americans who are keeping a close watch. Vesna Radivojevic is an independent Serbian journalist. She is senior political editor for Glas Yavnoste, a Belgrade newspaper that is still publishing daily. Paul McCarthy handles the Balkans program for the National Endowment for Democracy. The Endowment has often provide support for the independent media in Yugoslavia, including Radio B-92. And Marilyn Greene is a journalist, an executive director of the World Press Freedom Committee. Welcome to you all. Vesna, let me begin with you by asking you what you have heard from your colleagues about the situation the media is operating under in Belgrade.
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: Well, the only things I know about the situation in Belgrade can reach through e-mail and very rarely through the telephone and colleagues assure me that things are going normally as if something can be normal under the bombs there. And they are, all the independent media are the under strong censorship. And they have to underwent -- they have to put the articles there that are written in the Ministry of Information and when they approve that articles, only then they can print it. So you can imagine what is going on down in Serbia. So far as I know, the people in Kosovo are in much greater danger because their lives are really in risk.
TERENCE SMITH: Can you give me, Vesna, an example of the sort of censorship? I gather that you're actually supposed to label references to Americans or to NATO.
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: Yes. When you are writing about NATO, you have to say that they are aggressors, that they are doing crime to Serbian people, and when you are talking about ethics, it's only the aggression against the Serbian nation.
TERENCE SMITH: And the Americans?
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: The Americans is Neo Nazi Americans.
TERENCE SMITH: Neo Nazis?
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: Yes.
|Is B-92 independent?|
TERENCE SMITH: Marilyn Greene, when you listen to this, what's your sense of the situation as far as the flow of information in Yugoslavia?
MARILYN GREENE: Well, it's pretty clear that the journalists in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia have been given a choice, a rather unpleasant choice, to either print and publish and do as they're told, or to be put out of business or worse. We've now seen the beginning of physical attacks, murders on journalists. It's a terrible dilemma, and they're having to make that choice.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul McCarthy, we've referred to Radio B-92 in the setup piece, I spoke a few minutes ago with Tom Dine, the head of Radio Free Europe in Prague. And he advises me that as of Friday, and since Friday, he doesn't think B-92 is independent anymore. He thinks it's Serbian-controlled based on the content of their reporting. He feels they've been intimidated to such a degree that you could no longer call it independent. Is that your sense, as well?
PAUL McCARTHY: Well, I mean to underline what Marilyn has just said, these journalists are faced with a choice basically, either they broadcast particular types of news and information, or they're going to be forced off the air. If I could just underline a point, this has been going on for quite some time now. There was a passage of a draconian media law by the Yugoslav Government back in October 1998, which basically said that any news outlet which is spreading "fear and defeatism or lies against the Serbian state" would be forced off the air. And so journalists have been confronting this question for quite some time. B-92 has changed the way it is reporting the news for the time being. It has dropped references to foreign news organizations, news coming out of that. And it is not reporting on much on the situation in Kosovo.
TERENCE SMITH: And, Marilyn Greene, what would be the significance of that if, in fact, they have pulled in their horns?
MARILYN GREENE: Well, if I may first add one thing, under this law, which has been executed more and more ferociously in recent months, there are exorbitant fines imposed on media in the country. It's another form of warfare on independent journalism. It's just putting them out of business. The fines that have been levied against the newspapers in Pristina are up in the millions now. And this has been a very effective tool of the government.
TERENCE SMITH: Fines that the papers can't afford.
MARILYN GREENE: They can't even begin to afford them.
|Media is actively being exterminated.|
TERENCE SMITH: Vesna, let me ask you this. I know I should explain that you were here in the United States on what was to be a relatively brief visit last week. Are you concerned now about going back?
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: I planned to get back to Yugoslavia a week ago -- actually by the end of this week. And now I don't know when shall I come back to my country so of course I'm very concerned.
TERENCE SMITH: Are you concerned about your physical safety and well-being there?
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: I'm a little bit ashamed to speak about my, you know, safety because I am pretty safe here in the states because my colleagues in Yugoslavia is the one who is in real danger.
TERENCE SMITH: If the Radio B-92 has been intimidated to the point that it has essentially sanitized all its reporting, what would be the significance of that in terms of the flow of information there?
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: I'm not sure that I quite understand you, but you are actually asking me the importance of B-92 for the Belgrade public?
TERENCE SMITH: Yes.
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: B-92 are always and were always the most important source of information for the most people in Belgrade. And we were, you know, they are active for more than nine years. And we have lots of crisis. And the B-92 was always the, you know, primarily our source of information.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul McCarthy, what's the situation in Kosovo, itself? There was an execution of a major editor there of the Albanian newspaper.
PAUL McCARTHY: Yes. The situation is extremely dire. Beyond a crackdown on the media, the independent media is being actively exterminated. We can safely say that at this point. The editor in chief of the major Albanian language daily newspaper Kohad DeTore, Baton Haju was executed yesterday apparently by Serb forces after attending the funeral of a prominent Albanian human rights lawyer. So we are very, very concerned about this. Kohad DeTore, the newspaper's offices have been burnt to the ground. And the publisher, Vaton Suroi, who was part of the Albanian delegation to Rambouillet and Paris, has gone into hiding.
|Significance for the people.|
|TERENCE SMITH: Marilyn Greene, what -- if this is all, so
and it does appear to be so, all these reports, what's the significance
for the people of Yugoslavia for reaching their own decisions about Milosevic,
about his course of action, about continued support for him?
MARILYN GREENE: The situation is very serious because the people inside Serbia are not getting the same information that even you and I are, and we know that standing here we feel outside the circle because we're not seeing it with our own eyes, but the people inside Serbia, believe it or not are getting less information than we on the outside are. The people in downtown Belgrade don't know for sure what some of the bombings are. They don't know where they're falling. They don't know what the target is. They don't know what the result is. And Pristina down in Kosovo, which is so much farther away, is almost like a different world. And many, many people in the rest of Serbia do not know the degree to which the Milosevic government is executing his policies and his people in that region. So it's very serious when they're not getting information on which to base civilian decisions.
TERENCE SMITH: Vesna, is that affecting public opinion in terms of support for Milosevic?
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: There is a growing support of Milosevic, and that's the thing that scares me most. We have a pretty important independent, you know, people, not people from -- not very much people from the opposition parties, but the independent journalists, independent intellectuals, the students. They are all now silenced by the echo of the NATO bombing.
TERENCE SMITH: And you see them actually rallying around President Milosevic?
VESNA RADIVOJEVIC: No. They are -- it's not -- it doesn't very much concern about President Milosevic. They are not thinking about him when they are, you know, writing against the NATO. That's because of feeling that they are not deserved what is happening now in Serbia - that they are tried to -- they were great riots -- 88 days during the end of 1996 and beginning of 1997. We tried to get rid of him. And we didn't have help from -- we don't feel that we had the help from western governments, and now we are punished for the crimes he made.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Paul McCarthy, what other sources, if any, for legitimate information in Yugoslavia?
PAUL McCARTHY: Well, if you're lucky enough to have an Internet connection, a connection to the Web, you're able to access any number of online newspapers. There's also satellite dishes, as well. Quite a few Yugoslav residents have satellite dishes, which are able to pick up foreign news broadcast. However, the majority of the population in Yugoslavia is confined to watching state television and state radio. And, therefore, they are very susceptible, as they have been for quite a number of years now, to government propaganda. If I might point out an anecdote, there was a rock concert over the weekend, which was attended, surprisingly. I was talking to someone in Belgrade, a pretty prominent journalist, and she was telling me that basically the people who attended the rock concert were the same people who demonstrated no so long ago, as Vesna said in 1996. You can't help thinking that some of the propaganda is beginning to have an effect, even on Belgrade's elite, the students and so forth.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. Okay. Thank you all very much.
JIM LEHRER: Information from inside Yugoslavia, including the B-92 radio broadcast, can be found at the Online NewsHour.