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Logo from TV station, RTS --dubbed by The Economist as "Serbia's equivalent of the BBC" (Screen shot detail)

A Serbian TV station has apologized to the Yugoslavian people for acting as a “tool” for Slobodan Milosevic’s propaganda, Isaintel.com reported. It’s the “first ever issued” by the state-run TV station, RTSThe Economist explained that RTS is “Serbia’s equivalent of the BBC.”

The apology read:

“During the tragic events of the 1990s, RTS with its reporting on many occasions hurt the feelings, moral integrity and dignity of the Serbian citizens, intellectuals, members of political opposition, journalists, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as certain neighboring peoples and states.”

The Associated Press reported that RTS stated in the apology that it was “almost constantly and heavily abused” by Milosevic and apologized “to the citizens of Serbia and those of neighboring countries who were subject to insult, slander and what would now be termed as hate speech.”

Isaintel.com also noted that some RTS programs had an agenda “to discredit the Serbian opposition and its leaders.”  According to Isaintel.com, Milosevic put his “trusted associates” in charge of the network in the 1980s, and that during the “conflicts,” RTS presented “Serbs as the victim of ethnic attacks in the former Yugoslavia,” which helped encourage Serbs to volunteer in the effort.

Isaintel.com stated that no journalists were singled out for their role in the “false and biased reporting, and indeed many of them remain active and influential.”

“Other state broadcasters in the countries of the former Yugoslavia” may also follow suit “as they all share responsibility for enflaming ethnic animosity,” Isaintel.com commented. According to Isaintel.com, the newspapers Politika and Vecernje novosti, as well as the Tanjug news agency, were also propaganda outlets.

Two years ago, some journalists were investigated “for inflammatory reporting during the 1990s,” according to Isaintel.com.   But, the investigations, led by the Serbian Prosecutor’s Office, were reportedly to learn if “there were elements of criminal activity in reporting.”

Criticism of the Apology

The Economist reported that Ljiljana Smajlovic, the Serbian Journalists Association president and former Politika editor, criticized the apology.

The Economist noted Smajlovic has been criticized for “hypocrisy” over her statement since Politika was “the mouthpiece” of the government when she was in charge of it from 2005 to 2008. “But that does not necessarily make her wrong now,” The Economist commented.

Smajlovic commented that she has “little enthusiasm for this politically correct apology, so clearly calculated to win easy points abroad for Serbia and its government.” She also stated that Serbian journalism isn’t in a good state because journalists are face “pressures from both politicians and advertisers.”

iMediaEthics wrote to Smajlovic asking her for comment about the Economist’s claims Politika was a “mouthpiece” for the government under her editorship and also asking her about her thoughts on RTS’s apology.

Regarding Politika, Smajlovic told StinkyJournalism via e-mail that the Economist’s “Tim Judah should have attributed teh comment.” She noted that under her editorship, the newspaper “broke stories unfavorable to the government, called for the resignation of a popular defense minister (over an explosion of an unsecured arms depot), [and] published editorials” critical of the government.

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Smajlovic explained that she was “dismissed” from her position after the president “criticized in an open letter” a Politika article and called for newspaper records.  She wrote that the newspaper’s managing board “dismissed” her over a drop in circulation, but added that the board “praised my editorial policy.”  Since she left the newspaper, Smajlovic claims circulation has dropped from 75,000 to 50,000 copies.

Smajlovic included an article she wrote about the RTS apology.  She commented that in the time since her June 3 article on the apology was published, at least two editors for Serbian publications have been fired: a Swiss/German owned tabloid’s editor was fired following complaints from the president and a Hungarian daily’s editor in chief. And, Smajlovic added that the Serbian Ministry of Defense may prosecute a journalist who reported on a leaked “top secret” government document.

Smahlovic commented: “Journalists are being fired right and left, with little regard to their legal rights.”

In Smajlovic’s June 3 article on the apology (see here), Smajlovic commented that “the RTS board is right on the money about state TV’s role in the 1990s.  There is no question that in its heyday under Slobodan Milosevic, RTS was a hotbed of Serb nationalist cant and government propaganda.”

Smajlovic added that it “hardly requires political courage or moral idealism” to make the admission of propaganda and called for journalists to address the propaganda that is “now pervading the Serbian media.”

Read Smajlovic’s full article here.

Mediachannel.org called on Croatian TV to join in on apologies. Commenting on the RTS apology, Mediachannel.org wrote

“This statement clearly defines the often complicit relationship between war and media showing how TV networks promote wars in the guise of covering them. Too many media organizations took their cues from state propagandist.

Genocide?

Isaintel.com noted that “most likely,” journalists implicated won’t be accused of war crimes like some Rwandan media did because of the reporting during the Rwandan genocide.

The Washington Times reported in 2003 when “three Rwandan media executives were convicted by the international tribunal of committing and inciting genocide, wars crimes and persecution.” The media executives ran a government-run radio station and a newspaper. The conviction was significant because it was “the first time since Nuremburg that hate speech has been prosecuted as a war crime.”

The New York Times reported that the radio station, for example, aired the names and identifying information for Tutsis, which “guided killers to specific victims.”

iMediaEthics has written to RTS for comment and will update with any response.

 

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Serbia TV News Station Apologizes for Propaganda, Insult, Slander & Hate Speech

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