WED, 02 JAN 2002 01:28:36 GMT
The Media and Politics
Journalism of Cheap Sensationalism
Journalist have thrown the door open to politicians, let them into
editorial offices, allowed them to run the papers so that now they have
nothing to complain about, not even when they are being brought in by
the police for questioning or when provision of Milosevic's laws are
applied to them.
AIM Belgrade, December 18, 2001
The journalists are to blame. When the village headman of the Serbian
politics, Velimir Ilic (leader of the New Serbia) beats them up; when
they are brought in by the police for questioning for writing about
policemen wanted by the Hague; when they are refuted and threatened;
when politicians drag them through courts; when they are dismissed or
prevented from becoming editors of major state media; or when provision
of Milosevic's laws apply to them.
There is more of this, naturally, but further listing is unnecessary,
among other things, because the short introduction to this text explains
it all - journalists are truly the ones to blame. And whereas during
Milosevic's time this sentence was a cynical reproduction of a slogan by
those in power, today, in post-Milosevic's Serbia, it is unfortunately,
just a hard and undeniable fact. Journalists are to blame and we shall
Let us start with some benign examples. In early December, wanting to
raise its circulation, one of the newly-created newspapers carried a
first-rate sensation on its front page in capital letters and with the
usual exclamation mark - according to this paper the conflict in the
Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) would be resolved by Milan
Milutinovic's, President of Serbia, dissolving the Assembly and calling
new elections! Before this piece of news was published, no one in this
editorial office, from journalists to editor of the domestic-politics
section, desk chief and editor-in-chief knew a very simple fact that is
written in the Serbian Constitution: President of Serbia can dissolve
the Assembly, but only on the Government's proposal. Had they known,
they would have not printed anything since the President of the Serbian
Government is Zoran Djindjic, one of those who are in conflict within
the DOS, who doesn't have any intention of dissolving the Assembly (in
which he has the majority) or calling the new elections.
That was for starters. The Serbian newspapers (the media) publish all
sorts of things, totally unaware of what they are doing, without
checking their sources or feeling any responsibility for their own work.
Opposite of them are Serbian politicians, to whom these same words apply
in describing what they do and how they see journalists and newspapers.
Together, they both produce stupidities which unpunished, to put it
mildly, poison the Serbian public opinion by feeding it half-truths,
misinformation, mostly depending on the centres of power they work for.
It is common knowledge that Zoran Djindjic's stream is more influential
in the media, primarily the electronic ones, whereas, at the same time,
it is nothing unusual for an editor to be appointed in "The Politika",
for example, at the insistence of Kostunica's office; and no one is
surprised by the fact that "Nedeljni Telegraf" (Weekly Telegraph) is
openly closer to Djindjic and "Blic News" to Kostunica. The result of
this influence is a recognisable chaos. For example, without checking
anything, "The Blic" (The Blitz) ran a story that the murdered
protagonist of one of the greatest post-Milosevic affairs, one
Gavrilovic, a former State Security agent, was killed several hours
after he left Kostunica's Cabinet where he had given both the President
and his staff 'written proof" about Serbian Government's connections
with the Serbian mafia.
The whole problem was in the fact that Gavrilovic had visited
Kostunica, more precisely his advisors, but without leaving any proof in
either written or any other form. As far as "The Blitz" was concerned,
someone in that paper didn't care to make a few phone calls. That much
was needed to get a first-rate sensation about the murder of a man who
just came out of President's office, without the unnecessary, incorrect
additions which reduced the whole story to a mere manipulation.
Naturally, "Weekly Telegraph" reacted with even more fantastic story
about Kostunica secretly preparing a military coup. Leaving the nonsense
about "secret preparations" aside - as if military coups can be prepared
openly - this story was totally in contravention of basic journalistic
principles: to check and talk with all protagonists of a story.
Papers, which should (at least publicly) act as sophisticated and
serious, also succumbed to the epidemic of cheap sensationalism. The
Belgrade edition of the Banjaluka "Reporter" plunged into (in the style
of "Telegraph" and "The Blitz") a scandal about policemen for which "the
Hague was interested". This paper published a list of policemen (362
names), but to this very day no one knows what was kind of list was
actually in question. Reporter's front page published the following
bloc: "Exclusive - The Tribunal's List: 362 POLICEMEN ON THE HAGUE
LIST", and inside the paper a text entitled "Djindjic and Kostunica
Too?" which did not mention the list but the crushing of a rebellion of
Special Operations Unit of the Serbian MUP State Security Service. The
text only referred to the list stating that "red berets" (the usual name
for members of the mentioned unit) might easily get on a list similar to
the one published by "Reporter".
Immediately after that "Reporter" published a list with an even more
strange editorial comment. A part of the list was given under a
subtitle: "A list of persons on whom materials on possibly committed
crime are being collected-MUP Serbia", whereas the other part was given
under a subtitle which literally read: "List of
witnesses/suspects-proven participants in the operations of the Serbian
MUP in Kosovo". One might add: if anyone can understand any of this.
Later on, even the Hague denied that the names on the list were of the
indicted persons, so that now some policemen who had been wounded in
Kosovo and whose names were also on that list, are suing "Reporter".
Had "Reporter" checked the story, had it taken the statements from
various sources and contacted the Serbian MUP and Government in order to
obtain their interpretation of the list, in other words, had it prepared
the story as it should be done according to rules of journalism, there
would have been no scandal, at least none with the newspapers and
journalists and Serbian Minister of Police Dusan Mihajlovic would have
been spared the shame of giving distasteful statements, such as the one
that "journalists think him stupid", which he repeated at various press
conferences in an attempt to explain why were the author of the text and
Reporter's editor brought in by the police for questioning.
What is especially horrid in this whole story, apart from the grief
that every admirer of journalistic profession must feel when faced with
such amateurism in the Serbian media, is that in all the mentioned cases
editorial offices received information from one of the opposed
headquarters, i.e. partly from Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of
Serbia and partly from the Democratic Party and the rest of the DOS,
favouring Zoran Djindjic.
In other words, journalist have thrown the door open to politicians,
let them into their editorial offices, allowed them to run the papers
and now truly have nothing to complain of. Not even when the village
headman, Velja Ilic tries to beat them. Anyway, the title of the text
why Velja Ilic raised his fist against a journalist read: "Velja Ilic's
Cypriot partners members of the largest tobacco mafia in Europe?"
Another example of ignorance. One of the oldest journalistic rules
says - never put a question mark in the title. Simply because you either
know something or do not know. If you do not know, why write about it.
And why print newspapers and claim to be a journalist. Go and do
something else or stop complaining. It's your own fault.