The Media and the War

Rade Dragojevic

SAT, 29 JUL 2000

Zagreb, July 15, 2000 - At the beginning of the war there was word. That could be a summary of the collection entitled "The Media and the War" created in co-production by the Croatian and Serbian media research theorists. The book of some 450 pages written by 15 authors, was revised by Alija Hodzic, Branimir Kristofic and Nena Skopljanac-Brunner. In partly research and partly synthetic texts, it introduces the readers to the state of television and the press in early nineties, when the public space became the battleground of the media instigation of nations against each other. If this causality could also be legally established, namely if it could be concluded beyond any doubt that there existed a causal-consequential relation between reporting of the "Vjesnik" and that of the "Politika", i.e. between the news broadcast on the Serbian and Croatian national television - and it is the work of these editorial offices that the compendium concentrates on - and the war which started after the media harangue, then journalists and editors in these houses should have been brought before justice long ago according to that same principle which resulted in the conviction of journalists in the Rwanda war.

And the principle is to establish their connection with the military-political top ranks of the warring sides, which is a conjunction that resulted in war sufferings and destruction. Since protagonists of that so called "semantic civil war" were actually nowhere and never sanctioned, consequently this Balkan form of war-mongering journalism of ours will, in all likelihood, remain juridically untreated.

Several texts in this compendium study journalistic strategies which picture the other side as enemy, as absolute evil. For Croats, in this respect the priority are the Serbs, and vice versa, although the hostility extended depending on context. In his article "Europe is a Whore", Boris Buden concludes that the mentioned syntagm actually sounds to Croats as a curse and an expression of the Croatian "resentment of Europe". Practically all research of the printed media, from the analysis of Alija Hodzic, Velimir Curguz Kazimir and Marija Dimitrijevic-Kozic to texts of Srbobran Brankovic, analyse the situation from early nineties when journalists drastically changed their rhetorical strategy. Papers from that time were dominated by mobilising-explanatory texts at the expense of informative ones, with a view to inciting public emotions and creating atmosphere which would enable political elites to rather painlessly ensure a transition of their national states from emotional to veritable war mobilisation.

Systematic work on the production of surplus patriotism among citizens, that surplus which turns into hate, is but a smokescreen to hide the fundamental reasoning which was behind every war in history. In his introductory text, Nebojsa Popov concludes that behind a seductive nationalism of the trumpets of Jericho were concrete material interests of the nomenclature. The examples of this can be found in the recent plunder in Serbia which the state carried out with aid of hyperinflation in 1992 and 1993. The flat buy-up campaign was also conceived and implemented as a way of robbing the citizens.

Furthermore, in early nineties, same as Serbia, Croatia was a stage of unprecedented mass hysteria caused by the emergence of savings-banks and banks which offered high interest rates and quick profits. State crime secured money for the political elites through the monopoly over the most profitable businesses (oil, arms). The role of the media in that segment was of paramount importance.

Apart from regular evening ideological polishing of state banditism, journalism, and especially TV in Serbia in its programmes, systematically worked on the popularisation of crime. Special part in this was played by the pardoning of criminals for their "heroic" participation in the "holy war"; just recall the protagonists of those stories from Strcabosko to Arkan.

Mass media reconstruction of the political reality of early nineties and the production of new symbols by the political elites, as well as journalists, demanded a specific mechanism - a mechanism of mythicising the reality. To that end, as surveys show, almost all members of the Academy, from Vasilije Krestic to Dobrica Cosic, had their turn on the pages of the "Politika" during summer and autumn months of 1991, in order to prepare the public for a double role - that of a victim and of a just avenger. At that time, very popular historic serial articles (feuilletons) also played their role by, as Jelena Djuric shows, additionally feeding the Serbian citizenry with myths about the enemy, endangered Serbdom, necessity of war, indispensable unity of the Serbs, etc.

The concluding three texts in this compendium relate to the analysis of HRT and RTS programmes in the given period, while this specific electronic medium brought with it characteristic mechanisms of manipulation. Some of them are mentioned by Nadezda Cacinovic in her contribution which speaks about the picture as a new type of literacy. This situation was also used by warlords, since it brought results much more quickly than when they used the printed media. According to analysts, a passive TV spectator, comfortably reclined in an armchair, glued to the screen, having no reservation regarding any news served by the TV and with the so called "optical unconsciousness", is an excellent material for war activities. Nationalistic revolutions realised a bit earlier in Serbia (1987), and a few years later in Croatia, couldn't have been successfully carried out without the key second - journalism. Realising that their nations were impermissibly nationally neglected and that as such were of no use for their objectives, chauvinistic political elites in Serbia and Croatia embarked upon a kind of nationalistic resocialisation of peoples. Unfortunately, here journalism played a shameful role. And they got what they asked for - masses of people turned against each other.

Original article