- Serbian Propaganda: A Closer Look
- Milica Pesic, Director of the European Center for War, Peace, and the
News Media, discussed Serbian propaganda on April 12, 1999, on National
Public Radio's All Things Considered.
Note: you can listen to this report at
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
All Things Considered
April 12, 1999
- Noah Adams speaks with Serbian journalist Milica Pesic who has been
studying Serb propaganda. She discusses how the Serb government has used
the media to manipulate public opinion. (9:30)
Analysis: Serbian TV and newspapers
NOAH ADAMS, host:
- Yesterday afternoon in Serbia, in Belgrade, the capital city, an independent
newspaper publisher was killed on the street. The death of Slavko Curuvija
was described as an assassination. Curuvija founded the independent paper,
the Daily Telegraph. It stopped publication after the NATO air strikes
began, but a pro-government newspaper in Belgrade accused him of encouraging
the NATO bombing campaign. The independent media in the Yugoslav capital
is now mostly quiet and hidden. The reporting of the NATO strikes and the
action in Kosovo under the control of the Yugoslav government. Last Thursday
at a NATO briefing in Brussels, the question came up: Would Serb radio
and television transmitters become a target? The answer was possibly yes,
but NATO military spokesman, Air Commodore David Wilby, offered a deal.
- Air Commodore DAVID WILBY (NATO Spokesman): Serb radio and TV is an
instrument of propaganda and repression. It has filled the airwaves with
hate and with lies over the years, and especially now. It is therefore
a legitimate target in this campaign. If President Milosevic would provide
equal time for Western news broadcasts in its programs without censorship,
three hours a day between noon and 1800 and three hours a day between 1800
and midnight, then his TV could become an acceptable instrument of public
- ADAMS: NATO spokesman David Wilby. There's been no word of any response
to demand for access to the airwaves in Serbia.
- Here's an example of what's running on Serbian television. The theme
from an old American TV series.
- (Soundbite of music from "Mission Impossible")
- ADAMS: And graphics in English, `NATO attack, mission impossible.'
An aircraft is shown being blown up. A young girl is pictured with a bull's-eye
target on her head.
- Last week, the cable channel MSNBC ran some Serb TV video with English
- Unidentified Woman: Aggressor NATO forces continue with their criminal
attacks on the cities in Yugoslavia. The number of the killed and wounded
persons is not yet determined, but it is assumed that tons of civilians
died during the raids. The criminals attacked the civilian ...(unintelligible)
in the cities of Belgrade, Panchova(ph), Nis, Novi Sad, Pristina, Sombor,
Loznica and Aleksinac. Not even the just-born babies were spared from the
bombs while the framework and intensity of the last raids show the main
aim was to harm the civilians, besides the hundreds of victims. NATO criminals
most probably caused an ecological catastrophe as well because several
fuel depots and civilian chemical factories were hit.
- ADAMS: A Serbian television newscast from the cable channel MSNBC.
- The European Center for War, Peace and the News Media, based in London,
has received word from Belgrade that no pictures of mass Albanian refugees
have been shown at all, and that the Kosovo humanitarian catastrophe is
only referred to as the one made up or overemphasized by Western propaganda.
- Also, and we quote from the report, "information programs are
designed to present the illegitimacy of a NATO aggression on Yugoslavia,
the unanimity of the Serbian people in resisting the enemy and Serbian
invincibility. All three aims are wrapped in a nationalistic code, `most
powerful Western nations, killers, death disseminators, fascists, dictators,
criminals, villains, bandits, vandals, barbarians, gangsters, vampires,
cowards, perverts, lunatics, scum and trash who want to destroy the small
but honorable, dignified, freedom-loving Serbian nation.'"
- Milica Pesic worked for many years in Serbian television. She is now
the director of the Center for War, Peace and the News Media.
- Ms. MILICA PESIC (Center for War, Peace and the News Media): Let's
be honest, people usually believe in what they see on television, not only
in Serbia. I mean, it's a magnetic sort of little books, which very dangerous
sort of books. Even when you are instructed how to see something even when
you know that you are going to see a lie. So, yes, people do believe in
television, pictures are very powerful, even when you don't want to believe
there is something which goes like--you know, were to influence your own
- ADAMS: In the rise of nationalism and the rise of Slobodan Milosevic,
did he figure out right away that he would have to take control over state
television and radio?
- Ms. PESIC: Oh, that's the very first thing he did, actually, because,
you know, in a country where written media are not very popular, either
because they are very expensive or because people are illiterate or because
they're simply not accessible because, you know, there has been never a
distributed network for independent newspapers, so only a distribution
network for state-run papers. So it was really difficult to buy, even if
you wanted to buy independent papers in many parts of Serbia, so the easiest
has always been just to switch to television and watch it, and television
Serbia has been the only TV accessible in all parts of Serbia, in all parts
- ADAMS: So before Milosevic spoke to the people of Serbia in Kosovo
and said, `You will never again be beaten,' before he took up this cause
of nationalism, how free, how independent was state radio and television?
- Ms. PESIC: In Communism, of course you couldn't talk about independent
media, but last two or particularly the last decade of Communism before
Tito died and then decade after Tito died, we've learned certain rules,
so there are sort of taboos: don't touch Tito, don't touch self-management
and don't touch Second World War revolution and, you know, partisan movement.
So if you didn't touch those three taboos, you could have worked in a sort
of professional way, but we were hoping for the fall of Communism to get
really independent media. There is some as a symbol as our beginning of
democracy. What we got after the--if I can say that Communism has ever
fallen in Serbia, what we got after the fall of Berlin Wall, actually,
was another very hard Communist Mr. Milosevic who learned during Communism
what was important, how to control media and how to use media. I think,
actually, he even has moved further up in using media.
- ADAMS: So if you're a farmer in Serbia...
- Ms. PESIC: If you're a farmer in Serbia, you are very often illiterate.
- ADAMS: And you would have television?
- Ms. PESIC: Of course.
- ADAMS: You...
- Ms. PESIC: Because that's the very first thing you buy. You know, you
buy television set and you buy washing-up machine when you build your house.
- ADAMS: And so you would watch which program in the evening?
- Ms. PESIC: You would watch program first channel--news at 7:30. That's
like--you know, when people say `I saw it on tele last night,' that means
television Belgrade, television Serbia, Channel 1, 7:30 news time, prime-time
- ADAMS: And would you have any reason to be suspicious of what you're
seeing coming from Belgrade, the capital?
- Ms. PESIC: Well, in Communism, we learned to read, as you say, between
lines. So like you receive some information, then you try to find out what
is behind that. But then since television is such a powerful medium and
since you have the same sort of discourse being repeated for years, from
night to night for months and years, then you are like sort of that frog
from that Pavlov's experiment which has been cooked without actually understanding
that it has been cooked. You gradually just, you know, raise the temperature
of the water, the poor frog is in it, but, you know, grade by grade, you
cook the frog without really letting frog understand that it has been cooked.
- ADAMS: And in this case, you do, indeed, have bombs falling on your
- Ms. PESIC: And that's what is really something which made people believing,
you know, that they have actually turned towards, you know, whatever regime
is their government, because there was no support, no protection from outside.
I'm talking now about my colleagues, my friends, people who have been trying
to build democracy in Serbia, who have been trying to do some positive
changes. They're now completely abandoned from anyone. They are in a sort
of limbo. There is no lull in Serbia. There is not any support from any
side and what people are supposed to do but just to sit there and wait
as, you know, what's happened to my colleague in Belgrade yesterday. He
- ADAMS: Ms. Pesic, thank you for talking with us.
- Ms. PESIC: My pleasure.
- ADAMS: Milica Pesic, director of the European Center for War, Peace
and the News Media, talking with us from London.
- (Soundbite of music)
- (Soundbite of music)
- Click here for the Center for War,
Peace and the News Media
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