Veran Matic, Editor-in-Chief of RTV B92s
RTV B92 has been accused of unbalanced reporting during
the campaign for Serbia’s parliamentary elections.
Those accusations include favouring democratically-oriented
parties and ignoring parties which were in government
during the Milosevic regime, as well as those which
advocate isolationist ideas and the symbols of intolerance
and hate speech. Because of these allegations we feel
obliged to publicly explain B92’s editorial
policy, particularly as it relates to election campaigns.
Is this editorial policy a violation of the professional
standards and impartiality of journalism?
A full and precise answer to this question can only
be given in the context of Serbia’s social and
political situation at this point of time. Serbia
is in a deep and unpredictable social, political and
economic crisis. The country is facing the challenge
of growing nationalism and extremist populism wrapped
in the crudest social demagogy. The new hate speech
is self-generating, feeding on tabloid journalism
in a tabloid-driven political arena. The election
campaign now being waged is creating the clear impression
that anyone close to the political victors, and anyone
who can take great credit for defeating the opponents
can count on future grace and favours.
The statement by Radical leader Tomislav Nikolic
– a week before the elections – that he
is not sorry that journalist Slavko Curuvija was murdered
is probably the most cynical slap in the face possible
for the whole democratic public of Serbia. It is certainly
also a slap in the face for professional and unbiased
journalism in Serbia.
Serbian media have long failed to discriminate between
good and evil. Many publishers and broadcasters still
feel the need to be of service to someone or, even
worse, to guess at what will be acceptable to someone
in power or soon to be in power.
During the Cold War, Serbia stood at the halfway
point between the East and the West, and we took the
same “unbiased” approach to authoritarian
Real-Socialism as we did to democratic societies.
During the era of the non-aligned countries, African
dictators were presented as “decent” statesman
on the same footing as the prime ministers of the
world’s most democratic countries.
Even now, to put it cynically, there is a failure
to discriminate between vice and virtue. Some media
treat those who praise or ignore crimes as normal
and decent participants in political life in the same
way they treat those who cry foul and warn that the
era of crime could return. We are even-handed towards
the hangman and his victim: when it comes to the Hague
Tribunal we are obsessed with the welfare of the prisoners
while forgetting about their victims. Worse still,
it is now regarded as indecent to remind those from
the former regime about the crime and suffering; we’re
not allowed to come out and say that we are virtually
trampling on mass graves because that would be offensive
to them – and spoil their chances in elections.
Serious media must take responsibility for their
actions. This responsibility is not only connected
to the direct impact of their work, but also the long-term
ramifications. Anyone who fails to confront the ideologies
of revenge, death and hatred which resulted in the
expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people and the
impoverishment and suffering of millions just a few
years ago, giving the thin excuse that ethical positions
have nothing to do with the job, is not aware of the
essence of the profession of journalism.
These are not only grave ethical lapses: they also
support the suicidal braggadocio and demagogy which
could lead Serbia once more into ruin. The comparison
with Germany in the time of the Weimar Republic is
obvious. Germany, too, failed to face defeat and the
crimes committed by German soldiers after World War
One. The German Kaiser Wilhelm should have stood trial,
but instead fled to a foreign country. He could not
be returned because – incredible as it may seem
– the crimes of which he was accused were “only”
political. Germany then promised to try a group of
officers accused of war crimes. At the Leipzig trial
the majority of those accused were cleared, while
several were given light sentences and mysteriously
escaped from prison. The military commanders who lost
the war put the blame on democratic politicians and
killed them off in a series of assassinations. The
generals themselves became the leaders of nationalist
parties, while Marshal Hindenburg rose to become president
of the republic. Petty machinations among the non-nationalist
parties put Hindenburg in a position to offer the
prime ministership to Adolf Hitler, who led Germany
to new suffering and ruin. Through all this, many
German media turned a blind eye and presented Hitler,
who had already been convicted of attempting a coup
d’etat, as a normal, decent politician.
Not until the end of World War Two did the people
of Germany learn their lesson and eliminate the Nazis
from the acceptable circle of political speakers.
Do the politicians and journalists of Serbia need
another bloody war to come to the same democratic
All publishers, all broadcasters have the right to
apply their own values to the events they report.
They all have the right to say whether they are for
democracy or against it, whether they are for crime
or against it, whether they stand for virtue or vice.
Those who only sum up events with no attempt to explain
their nature and import are behaving irresponsibly
in a country where, once again, democracy is seriously
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