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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 ATC's Website:





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





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 information.
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 interpretation.
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 subconscious.
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 of Montenegro.
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 news bulletin.
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 home territory?
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 was killed.
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)


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