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Journalism and Propaganda: A case study based on accounts of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s

Journalisme et propagande : étude de cas à partir des comptes rendus  des conflits de l’ex-Yougoslavie dans les années 1990
Simon Goldsworthy
p. 233-262

Résumé

Cet article analyse un large éventail de livres écrits par des journalistes britanniques qui présentent des comptes rendus des guerres de l’ex-Yougoslavie – en particulier en Bosnie – dans les années 1990. Les ouvrages s’appuient sur les expériences de première main de ces journalistes qui ont couvert le conflit. L’article cherche à déterminer jusqu’à quel point de nombreux journalistes ont utilisé, de manière consciente ou non, des techniques propagandistes courantes en voulant faire campagne au travers de leur reportage. Il est démontré que cela les a souvent menés à agir de façon hypocrite dans la mesure où ils adoptaient eux-mêmes un comportement semblable à celui qu’ils fustigeaient dans leurs comptes rendus des activités propagandistes auxquelles avaient recours certaines des parties en guerre. On soulignera, par exemple, l’utilisation des données concernant l’arrière-plan historique ainsi que le fait d’établir des comparaisons avec le passé, l’estimation du nombre des victimes et l’évaluation des atrocités ou encore la diabolisation de l’ennemi et la disculpation de ceux qui sont perçus plus favorablement. On explorera également les contrastes entre différentes générations de journalistes, et la façon dont les journalistes étaient vus par d’autres ou se percevaient eux-mêmes, ainsi que la manière dont ils ont réagi à la manipulation des médias par certaines des parties au conflit.

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Texte intégral

1The wars of secession in the former Yugoslavia were staple fare in all news media throughout the 1990s. They also spawned a considerable number of books by journalists, with British writers strongly represented. Most are by reporters who witnessed the wars. Their accounts are interwoven with potted histories of the region, but their special claim to validity arises from the authors’ presence in the former Yugoslavia at crucial moments of the conflict. The cross-section of books examined below is not exhaustive but represents a range of journalists’ views. The majority of texts relate to the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, largely because this was by far the most protracted conflict in the break-up of Yugoslavia and has generated the greatest volume of writing by journalists. The memoirs of some other participants are also referred to, not least because of the light they shed on the way in which journalists reported the wars. This article seeks to show how journalists consciously and unconsciously faced difficulties as they sought to reconcile their professional role with the urge to campaign about the war, and on occasion employed propaganda techniques which they were swift to condemn when used by those in the former Yugoslavia of whom they disapproved.

Ancient Hatreds

  • 1  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, London: Pan, 1994 [1993], 16. The book describes how Nicholson (...)

The ferocity of the Balkan people has at times been so primitive that anthropologists have likened them to the Amazon’s Yanamamo, one of the world’s most savage and primitive tribes. Up until the turn of the present century, when the rest of Europe was concerned as much with social etiquette as with social reform, there were still reports from the Balkans of decapitated enemy heads presented as trophies on silver plates at victory dinners. Nor was it unknown for the winners to eat the loser’s heart and liver1

2Journalists who wrote about the wars in the former Yugoslavia devoted considerable attention to the history of the region. Many wrote their own histories or included potted versions within their accounts, and, as I shall show, most referred to local versions of history and the part they played in the propaganda surrounding the war. They deplore the use of what they see as mythical versions of history. They were more reluctant to examine how far they themselves were creating their own myths and guilty of using history, or their version of it, as a propaganda tool. As Nicholas O’Shaughnessy points out:

  • 2  Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, Politics and Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Seduction, Manchester: Manchester (...)

Old myths can be re-created, but new myths can also be invented—that is to say, myth entrepreneurship. Myths are a culture’s self-explanation, and they are a key part of propaganda2.

  • 3   Author of Bosnia: A Short History. London: Macmillan, 1994; and Kosovo: A Short History, London, (...)
  • 4  Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War, London: Penguin, 1992.

3One of the most contentious issues for British journalists who covered the wars in the former Yugoslavia was how far, if at all, “ancient hatreds” could be blamed for the new conflicts.  In a critical bibliography jointly edited by the journalist and historian Noel Malcolm3, for example, the note on Misha Glenny’s The Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War4reads thus:

  • 5  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating (...)

Combines shameless ethnic stereotyping of the former Yugoslavs as brutal and treacherous with repeated calls for a Western policy more conciliatory to Belgrade. A colourful but shallow journalistic account of Yugoslavia’s break-up, suited to readers with no serious desire to understand it. Praised highly by David Owen5.

4In the same vein the BBC correspondent Fergal Keane recalls a drunken argument with an Irish officer in Sarajevo:

  • 6  Fergal Keane, Letters Home, London: Penguin, 1999, 60. Keane concedes: “I could hear what my voice (...)

I resented this man. There was something too smug about his attitude. It was the same rubbish I’d heard in Rwanda: they’ve been at it for years and they always will be. It’s inevitable. They hate each other. Blame them all and you don’t have to worry about taking any responsibility for what happens… Did he ever see what happens when politicians set one group of people on another?6

5For Christopher Bennett, who served as a novice correspondent in the former Yugoslavia before writing a history of the country’s bloody collapse:

  • 7  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, London: Hurst, (...)

It is a tale not of ‘ancient hatreds’, centuries of ethnic strife and inevitable conflict, but of very modern nationalist hysteria which was deliberately generated in the media. Indeed, Yugoslavia’s disintegration is largely a testimony to the power of the media in the modern world7.

  • 8 Ibid., 184.

Keane and Bennett’s comments encapsulate the alternative theory of causation preferred by those who are indignant at the idea of “ancient hatreds”. According to this theory evil politicians are able to mislead their people, using the media as their instrument of control. (Oddly, Bennett does not seem to feel that his argument is in any way invalidated by the fact that, as he says himself, in the period leading up to the war in Bosnia “the Bosnian media …refused to take any nationalist position”8).

6Older correspondents such as John Simpson, Michael Nicholson, Martin Bell and Simon Winchester tended to be more sympathetic to the idea that “ancient hatreds” played a major part in fomenting the war. It could be argued that the older journalists were more cynical and had less raw idealism. They also had less to prove and were perhaps readier to stand their ground, departing from what increasingly became the accepted line. Former Yugoslavia was not their first experience of war: all had covered a range of conflicts, including civil wars and interethnic strife of different kinds. This seemed to have two effects: it made them less inclined to see the situation in which they found themselves as unique; and, consciously or not, it provided them with models from past wars with which to seek to interpret the former Yugoslavia. It is also arguable that for people of their generation there was less of a taboo about emphasising “ancient hatreds”.

  • 9  For instance, readers of The Sun, Britain’s best-selling daily newspaper,voted that the Yugoslav c (...)
  • 10  According to Simon Winchester: “One might say that anyone who inhabited such a place for a long pe (...)

7But pinning the blame on “ancient hatreds” may have had other attractions for those supplying stories to the British public. The war and the resulting atrocities demanded some kind of brief explanation as it was hard to sustain the public’s interest in something they neither knew nor understood9. Moreover the war became a distant event, specific to one particular region which happened to be afflicted by “ancient hatreds”10, and therefore posed no threat to them. There was little they could do about the causes of the conflict, which were of course buried in the past, so intervention would have to be confined to limited military support for humanitarian aid.

  • 11  Simon Winchester refers to it as a “great swamp”, op. cit., 213.

8Journalists who dismissed the notion of “ancient hatreds” wanted to see the West do much more to help. They were well aware that if the problems of the region were made to appear intractable the case for intervention could be fatally undermined as no-one would want to step into the proverbial “Balkan quagmire”11. “Ancient hatreds” provided a bloody backdrop which was of further use to opponents of intervention: external powers were exonerated and atrocities in the 1990s could blur into a timeless pattern, stretching across a thousand years or more of history, in which different sides are alternately at fault, and the misdeeds of 1990s could not be so firmly blamed on one side. By lowering people’s expectations of the behaviour of the Balkan peoples they also made atrocities seem less shocking.

  • 12  Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, London and New Haven: Yale, (...)
  • 13 Ibid., 74.
  • 14  Simon Winchester, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, op. cit., 199-200.

9So potent did the condemnation of the idea of “ancient hatreds” become that many journalists tiptoe round the argument nervously, fearful of breaching what became a taboo. Tim Judah, for example, says in the introduction to his history of the Serbs that: “It is unfashionable to link the past and present when writing about the wars in the former Yugoslavia”12; later on he describes the view as “politically incorrect” and says that it is considered the “sin of ‘moral relativism’”13. Simon Winchester comments that: “It is now thought quite improper to dismiss all that has happened and that will continue to happen simply as the consequence of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’”14. Reliance on “ancient hatreds”, through its association with anti-interventionism, gained the taint of appeasement. In view of this pressure it is not unreasonable to suppose that some journalists did not wish to be “unfashionable” or “improper” and therefore adjusted their writing accordingly.

  • 15  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating (...)
  • 16  Alec Russell, Prejudice and Plum Brandy: Tales of a Balkan Stringer, London: Michael Joseph, 1993, (...)

10The “fashionable” and “proper” attitude of rejecting “ancient hatreds” acquired attributes akin to religious faith: it brooks no argument, overlooks inconvenient facts and instils fear by anathematising those who oppose it. Even Malcolm, one of the staunchest opponents of the “ancient hatreds” argument, comments in his history of Bosnia that writers who had portrayed “Bosnia as a wonderland of permanent inter-religious harmony have over-reacted”15. However when Alec Russell, who wrote for The Daily Telegraph, praises Bosnia as a model of a multi-ethnic society for much of its history he overlooks the apparent contradiction with his earlier comment that tolerance had a poor pedigree in the Balkans16. A similar tension appears in Malcolm’s depiction of Bosnia. When he writes that:

  • 17  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating (...)

It cannot be denied that there are some gruesome practices, such as the mutilation of corpses, the knowledge of which has been passed down in a kind of tradition from earlier wars and folk memories17

  • 18  Quoted in David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, London: Victor Gollancz, 1995, 37. Owen comments that Andric (...)

he appears to recognise that successive generations remember how to commit atrocities even if, in his judgement, they have largely forgotten why they do so. Despite frequently celebrating Bosnian culture journalists sidestep the conclusion of Bosnia’s most famous writer, the Nobel Laureate Ivo Andric, that “Bosnia is a country of fear and hate”18.

  • 19  See, for example, Russell, op. cit., 266.

11The strongest evidence advanced for Bosnia’s cheerful “multi-ethnicity” is the post Second World War period, a time of undoubted peace19. However the reasons for this are seldom subject to any serious scrutiny. Martin Bell, who in common with many older reporters is sceptical of the idea of Bosnia’s past harmony, quotes a Croat who:

  • 20  Martin Bell, In Harm’s Way: Reflections of a War-Zone Thug, London: Penguin, 1996 [1995],132.

demolished the myth of Bosnia as a previous model of ethnic harmony: the war was probably made inevitable by the one before it, and the Titoist constructions did no more than postpone the reckoning: ‘Yes, we lived in peace and harmony. We lived in peace and harmony because every hundred metres we had a policeman to make sure we loved each other very much’20.

  • 21  For example, “ ‘History’, or at least a bloodshot version of it, has been one of the principal mot (...)

12All journalists, including those who dispute the role played by “ancient hatreds” in provoking the war in the former Yugoslavia, agree that history—albeit a one-sided and much abused history—was much invoked by all sides in the Bosnian War. They often seek to make this important point clear at the outset of their accounts21. Most are dismissive of the obsession with history they encounter in the region, particularly on the part of the Serbs. This kind of thing, it seems, is for Balkan people. However it still seems to be very important for journalists to set the region’s historical record straight.

  • 22  See, for example, Paul Harris, who freelanced for a range of British newspapers and makes referenc (...)

13No British journalist noted the paradox that while they regarded the Balkan subject peoples about whom they wrote as dangerously obsessed by history, they themselves needed constantly to refer to events fifty years earlier in order to make sense of what they saw. Almost all journalistic accounts of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s refer repeatedly to Nazi actions, and, although Yugoslavia was occupied during the Second World War, it is not so much this that preoccupies British journalists as the Holocaust22. This hypocrisy is unwitting but blatant. On the one hand, Peter Morgan, a Channel Four News reporter, recalls:

  • 23  Peter Morgan, A Barrel of Stones: In Search of Serbia, op. cit., i.

Past events had a wilful habit of spilling into the present. On a visit to Serb-held Bosnia, I heard a press minder declare: “Don’t forget—the Second World War only finished fifty years ago.” That seemed to say a fair amount about the difference between his world and mine23.

  • 24 Ibid., ii-iii.

However, one page later, Morgan imagines “Nineties Belgrade to be rather like Berlin in the Forties, ‘a lost city at the bottom of the sea’”, and on the third page, a wartime phrase from Germany comes to his mind24. Later in his book Morgan devotes ten pages to exploring parallels between Nazi Germany and Serbia, using Karl Jaspers’ The Question of German Guilt and other examples from Germany to examine Serbia and its leaders. This may well be legitimate, but it is a frame of reference which he seeks to deny to his opponents.

  • 25  Russell, op. cit., 258.
  • 26 Ibid., 266-67.

14In a similar vein Russell writes that extreme caution has to be used in making analogies with Nazi Germany but concludes that “in Bosnia in 1992 correspondents and UN officials struggled to find a lesser comparison.25” However, while memories of the Holocaust are permissible, even for a generation of journalists born long after the Second World War, Bosnians who remembered the internecine strife in their homeland in 1941-45 were deemed to be neither rational or acceptable: according to Russell, in Bosnia’s post-Second World War decades of peace “ethnic hatred was voiced only in the ravings of the drunk or the tortured memories of those who remembered the war.26

15It is again striking that the most strident references to Nazism and the Holocaust are found in the writings of younger journalists. While their older colleagues may have grown up in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, it seems that the learned memories of the younger generation were more specifically focused on the Holocaust. Its resonance was irresistible: basic notions of the Holocaust were the common stock in trade of every correspondent, as were the ready images and vocabulary which it supplied. Given the Holocaust’s role as the ne plus ultra of modern moral discourse, it is the strongest comparator in discussions of war, nationalism and atrocities.

16Although the Second World War supplied journalists with a vocabulary of names of concentration camps, figures from the Third Reich and Nazi terms, television images which related to icons of the Holocaust were by far the most telling. As Richard Holbrooke put it:

  • 27  Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, New York: Random House, 1998, 41.

… the world began to see shocking film of emaciated prisoners in northern Bosnia, looking at the unblinking camera through barbed wire fences, scenes out of World War II—yet happening now27.

In fact, although the ITN team and some other British journalists are generally credited with avoiding direct analogies between the camps and the Nazi extermination programme, the pictures were more telling than any carefully qualifying words. It was an approach that affected not just journalists in the former Yugoslavia but their most immediate audience: editors and other media workers in the UK and elsewhere who were just as determined to compare what they found with the Holocaust. As Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian recalls:

  • 28  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, op. cit., xii. Similar sentiments are ex (...)

The day after the discovery of the Serbian camp at Omarska, I gave the ridiculous number of fifty-four television and radio interviews… The reaction was so tumultuous that, to my annoyance, I was obliged to spend more time emphasising that Omarska was not Belsen or Auschwitz than detailing the abomination of what we had found28.

17This aspect of the journalists’ historical preoccupation also has its propagandistic characteristics, as an examples of technique of “name-calling” identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, whereby people or ideas are linked to negative symbols—in this case the most negative possible29. It also helps to close down debate. Once the Holocaust is successfully invoked as a parallel, its power as an article of secular faith means that it can be foolhardy to demur, particularly for young, inexperienced journalists seeking to make their careers. Simpson recalls questioning the Nazi-Serb/Jew-Muslim analogy and being “accused by the head of a leading Los Angeles radio station of being first an appeaser, then of being pro-Nazi, and finally of being anti-Semitic.30” Such criticism is obviously easier for a well-established journalist like Simpson to sustain as he did not have to prove himself. For others the incentives for uncovering a new Holocaust were clear:

  • 31  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 449.  In One Woman’s War: Life and De (...)

The hunt was on for Nazi-style atrocities, and several reporters won major awards for revealing them, even though their sources were afterwards questioned31.

Generational differences

18Many of the long-serving correspondents who operated in former Yugoslavia during the wars of secession were appalled by the journalists they encountered, and expressed their views in very similar terms. Simpson describes the Sarajevo press corps thus:

  • 32  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 440. Nicholson says that “Too many me (...)

There were a few stars here… but the rest of them were mostly young and adventurous tyros who had come here early on because it was dangerous, and had been offered jobs by famous organizations who couldn’t get anyone else to go there32.

Bell describes how the war attracted:

  • 33  Bell, op. cit., 51.

very odd types: head bangers, Walter Mittys and war tourists, designer-dressed as combat photographers and seeking to prove their courage to someone, usually themselves33

  • 34  Prentice, born in 1952, writes how she could never quite step out of the shadow of the Second Worl (...)
  • 35  Loyd describes his problems with his friends back in London, (Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss (...)
  • 36  This is an example of the propaganda technique known as the bandwagon, where herd instinct is used (...)

The newcomers to journalism were attracted by the idea of reporting from Bosnia: for their older counterparts it was, at least initially, just another story in yet another war-zone. As newcomers to war, what they encountered in Bosnia was uniquely shocking and could not be related to anything else in their direct experience34. Once they had experienced the Balkans in flames it became difficult to relate to the world they had left behind35. Greater experience—and secure employment and reputations—arguably brought with it a risk of pomposity. It certainly boosted their self-confidence and ability to stand apart from the consensus which emerged—what Simpson calls the journalism of the herd36.

  • 37  Loyd is characteristically frank: “I got my ‘break’ as a war correspondent at the expense of a mut (...)
  • 38  e.g. Russell, op. cit., 252; Harris,op. cit., 40 and Nicholson, op. cit., 195.

19The newcomers were novice salesmen in a marketplace where the main commodity was the description of different kinds of atrocity (there was relatively little description of military formations, weaponry, strategy and tactics, the currency of war reporting in many past conflicts). Their incomes and advancement depended on discovering and relaying bad news37. Several writers describe how quickly editorial interest in the Balkans could wane, and how dependent it was on bloodshed38.

  • 39  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., viii
  • 40  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 66 and 207.

20The memoirs of some of the novices who cut their journalistic teeth in the former Yugoslavia show how many of them sought—and found—exciting experiences. For Bennett, for example, the months he spent as a war correspondent were the most exciting period of his life39. Loyd, who was to report for The Times, had been profoundly influenced by Michael Herr’s Dispatches. Later he was to be delighted with what the war had offered him: “chicks, kicks, cash and chaos; teenage punk dreams turned real and wreathed in gunsmoke40. In the case of Alex Hickman, who went to Sarajevo as a correspondent for TheKent Messenger (in reality this was just a means of giving his stay legitimacy), there was an enthusiasm for picturesque adventure which may have influenced journalists more than they cared to reveal:

  • 41  Alex Hickman, Slow Winter, Bridgnorth: Travellers Eye, 2000, 12-13.

As a bloodthirsty schoolboy I had this thing about the Balkans—they seemed wild, cruel and refreshingly unaccomplished. They made my Europe feel plain and old, distracted by factory disputes and trade agreements. The Balkans had wolves and eagles, we had bird baths… I was thoroughly jealous. While I was at Edinburgh old tempers and hatreds broke out in the Balkans. War and disorder cast a curious spell. In a crude way they reflected my own sense of turmoil. I was drawn to their flame, to their promise of drama and catharsis. Hardship seemed attractive. So secretly, I began to prepare to go41.

  • 42 Paul Harris,Somebody  Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, op. cit., 44. Loy (...)

Others are prepared to admit the “awe-ful realisation that you can actually enjoy, physically and mentally, the heat of battle, the taste of fear and the actuality of survival”42. Harris quotes Nora Ephron approvingly:

  • 43 Ibidem.

Unlike fighting in war itself, unlike big-game hunting, working as a war correspondent is almost the only classic male endeavour left that provides physical danger and personal risk without public disapproval and the awful truth is that for correspondents, war is not hell. It is fun43.

The repeated expressions of “aw(e)fulness” underline the way in which relishing war runs counter to the accepted antiwar orthodoxy. It makes it very difficult for journalists to be frank about those who profit from war, other than “evil leaders” on the wrong side, even though ambitious journalists and the elites on all sides can be beneficiaries. As a result journalism is blinkered and its power to explain is vitiated. Although Loyd also describes at various points his interest in killing, few of the other journalists examined were prepared to confront the possibility that violence might have its attractions. Perhaps the inner tension created by suppressing this guilty secret was one of the factors which led to the high moral tone adopted by much of the media.

  • 44 Ibidem.

21An increasingly rare example of war in Europe also provided opportunities for a generation inclined to psychological introspection. According to Harris, who covered the earlier parts of the wars as a freelance, war’s “visions of misery and suffering can also provide a convenient reference point for putting aside one’s own damaged emotions.44” Hickman explains that he was driven by a desire to match his “brilliant father” who had died when he was young. A more tortured account of a young correspondent working out his relationship with his father (and, simultaneously, his relationship with hard drugs) is provided by Loyd:

  • 45  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 213.

With some trepidation I had wondered whether his death would end the anger inside me, so much of which was responsible for motivating me in war… I went back to war wanting to suck deeply on the pain out there and blow it back in the faces of people like my father: the complacent, the smug, the sardonic. I was the damned and disowned son. It was a worthy mantle for the messenger45.

For Loyd, what applied to him also applied to much of the Sarajevo press corps. They were “damaged children”, “black sheep”:

  • 46 Ibid., 47.

However sophisticated the veneer an individual wore, a little way beneath it you discovered personal tragedy and misfortune, the hungry appetite that motivated them to load up on more damage, each personal victory locking them further into defeat… They would fight and fuck one another with the abandon of delinquents in care, but they also looked after each other, linked by the altruistic camaraderie common to any pariah group. I fitted in just fine46.

Quantifying atrocities

22Death tolls and casualty statistics—butcher’s bills—are of central importance to the portrayal of conflicts in modern time. Their status in the pecking order of horror depends upon this, and has meant that atrocity statistics can become sacrosanct: those denying them can at times risk infringing the law, even in societies which set great store by freedom of speech.

23The reporting of a war, and particularly the reporting of atrocities, requires an elementary body count, even if the figures are “thought to be”, “claimed”, “estimated” or “understood” rather than confirmed (a more negative disclaimer, such as “unsubstantiated” is normally only applied to the claims of the “enemy”). In a sense, however, all qualifications of this kind are evasions: if a figure—always a rounded total—is consistently reported in a way which appears to lend it credibility it will achieve acceptance, and corrections long after the event are irrelevant or impossible. Once a figure acquires currency of this kind, lower estimates appear tasteless—and the motivation for providing them is questionable: another legacy of the Holocaust. According to Loyd:

  • 47 Ibid., 30.

Casualty figures in Bosnia have become a bitter topic since the war ended. The claim of 250,000 is frequently contested, usually by quasi-academics who were never there but whose revisionist figures are glibly bandied about by politicos to justify and exonerate their policies of non-intervention. But if you stuck around long enough at the time, the dead and the wounded piled up so quickly they squeezed one another off the narrow platforms of your memory47.

  • 48  Roy Gutman, Witness to Genocide: The First Inside Account of the Horrors of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in (...)

24But it was in a report datelined 22 December 1991, several months before the war in Bosnia began, that Roy Gutman records Haris Silajdzic, then Bosnian Foreign Minister, as saying that there was a prospect for a catastrophic war and between 200,000 and 300,000 people could be slaughtered in a matter of months48. This is so close to the figures commonly cited by the Western media during the conflict, that it provides circumstantial evidence as to the origin of the number.

  • 49  Owen certainly knew of no accurate figures (David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 80).
  • 50  When General Morillon denied that a particular, much reported massacre had taken place (“Je n’ai p (...)

25In the case of the war in Bosnia it is not clear on what basis journalists provided figures49. Such reports as did emerge were not necessarily accurate or accepted50. It is hard to see how Loyd’s presence in Bosnia, during a prolonged conflict which raged simultaneously in many often remote areas across the Republic, could have helped him to assess the number of fatalities accurately. The logic of his argument is that he saw a lot of deaths and therefore does not want the 250,000 figure contested: the rounded total, although unknowable, must remain sacrosanct.

26Journalists’ need for a (rounded) total led them to rely on figures provided by the Bosnian authorities—who, given that most of the country was outside their control, were hardly any better placed to provide them. The fact that the Bosnian Government was pursuing a strategy designed to secure Western intervention does not seem to have given many journalists pause for thought. Casualty claims in a war of this kind are hardly something that journalists ever have to back away from or about which they have to be subsequently embarrassed: the Bosnian Serbs were hardly in a position to make a serious or credible complaint.  

27One correspondent who did challenge Bosnian claims was Simpson, who asked Silajdzic to substantiate claims that thousands of civilians had been killed in Bihac:

  • 51  General Sir Michael Rose, Fighting for Peace: Bosnia: Bosnia 1994, London: Harvill, 235.

Now he could not produce any evidence for these claims, and he showed considerable irritation at being exposed as a liar on camera51.

According to Owen, towards the end of the war the Bosnian Government lowered its own estimates of deaths to 145,000. Since it seems hard to see why they would underestimate their own fatalities this lower estimate presumably represents a maximum figure. Owen also quotes George Kenney, whose sympathy for the Muslim cause led to his resignation form the State Department, as putting the figure between 25,000 and 60,000. According to Kenney:

  • 52  David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 80. Intriguingly, if Kenney’s figures are right, and the Bos (...)

Bosnia is not the Holocaust or Rwanda; it’s Lebanon. A relatively large number of white people have been killed in a gruesome fashion52.

  • 53  Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, op. cit., 310. His figures (...)

28Judah, although acknowledging the difficulty of establishing the number of dead, quotes the estimates of an unnamed foreign official putting the number of dead on the government side at 60,000 and the fatalities on the Serb side at 15-20,000. He says that the latter is in tune with the numbers he has heard in Republika Srpska53.

  • 54  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., 3.

29On the other hand Bennett cites estimates of the number of dead ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 (although this also includes the war in Croatia)54. Clearly reporters needed some kind of total, but the significance of figures quoted was that it vindicated the claims of mass killing and thereby supported the analogy with journalists’ preferred lodestar: the Nazi Holocaust. As Simpson puts it:

  • 55  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 449. Compared with the British, title (...)

And so we had stories about extermination centres and mass rape centres, as though the Bosnian Serbs were capable of a Germanic level of organization. They were believed, and as a direct result the Bosnian crisis began to monopolize the foreign policy of the major Western powers55.

30Although journalists reported numerous individual atrocities, the danger was that individual acts, however bestial, could make the war seem simply revolting—and that people’s response would be either to feel that nothing could be done or to turn away in disgust. High casualty figures (along with figures for refugees and other statistics) provided a stronger foundation for those seeking to advance the seriousness of the conflict and the case for intervention. Since journalists conceded that all sides were guilty of atrocities, albeit on a completely unequal scale, too great a focus on particular acts also tended to suggest that all sides were guilty.

31A similar process was applied to the reporting of rape. According to Nicholson, the story erupted after Radio Bosnia reported that the Serbs were holding more than 10,000 prisoners for the purpose of systematic rape and that whole villages had been converted into rape camps. Thereafter, “The story created its own momentum with the reported scale of the crimes rising daily”. People wanted to read and believe the stories and little attempt was made to check the inherent confusion, contradiction and “downright biological impossibility” in many of the accounts. Most importantly, rape was successfully portrayed as part of a policy of genocide.

  • 56  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, op. cit., 90-93. The main elements of Nicholson’s account are (...)
  • 57  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War,op. cit., 196.
  • 58 Ibid., 192-194. These points are made by John Burns in “Conflict Reporting or Conflict Encouragemen (...)

32Nicholson claims the Bosnian government subsequently admitted that its figures were “guestimates” and extrapolations based on a very small number of interviews and third-person testimonies.  All that remained was the evidence of not more than a hundred women, and that was often hearsay. The main international organisations involved—the Red Cross, the UNHCR and Save the Children—were all unable to corroborate the claims. Nonetheless when one of only three babies known to have been born to rape victims made its first appearance media interest was so intense that doctors had to intervene to protect her from the flashlights56. However, for Vulliamy, haggling over the exact figures was tasteless: “it is beyond doubt that several thousand women, girls and even children were, as the Zenica commission [a Bosnian commission] puts it, ‘served to the Chetniks for the satisfaction of their low instincts”57. In support of the general rape charge, Vulliamy quotes the evidence of Borislav Herak, a Serb prisoner of the Bosnian government, who was under sentence of death at the time and confessed to involvement in numerous rapes and indeed appeared on British television at the time. But Vulliamy never considers whether a confession extracted in such circumstances was at all dubious—nor explains why he quoted part of Herak’s claims but did not repeat Herak’s evidence against Lewis Mackenzie (namely that the Canadian UN General had also been involved in such activities)58. Vulliamy’s selective use of such testimony is also an example of how journalists relied on questionable use of specific examples to prop up far more sweeping claims.

Saints and demons

  • 59  Bruce Robbins, Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress, op. cit., 142.

… many—perhaps most—of the human rights stories we have been hearing lately tend to make us feel about the perpetrators of atrocity just what the perpetrators, apparently, feel about their victims: that they are inhuman59.

  • 60  For example, “Those of us who didn’t join the claque were much criticized. I overheard one of the (...)

33One of the most striking features of most journalistic accounts of the wars in the former Yugoslavia is how polarised they are. Given the strident partisanship of the press corps there were also dangers for those who did not toe the line, and indeed it must have been tempting for journalists to outdo each other in a bidding war of one-sided moral outrage60. However, by hindering any understanding of the concerns and motivation of one side in the struggle, and the attractions that side held for its supporters, this approach diminished the ability of journalists to explain what was going on, even as it increased the power of their polemic. They also demonstrate the classic modus operandi of a propagandist: draining one’s opponents case of its merits, while obliterating failings on one’s own side.

  • 61  There is no proof of his intentions according to Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedi (...)
  • 62  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., 184.
  • 63  Rose, op. cit., 38. According to Rose, Izetbegovic’s Vice-President Ejup Ganic once said that “ult (...)

34One privilege accorded to the favoured side is that their words are taken at face value. Most journalists—perhaps reasonably—take for granted the Serbian desire to create a “Greater Serbia”, even though the Serbian leader Milosevic never stated it61. In contrast the aims of Serbia’s opponents are assumed to be benign. The publicly proclaimed commitment of Bosnia’s Muslim leaders to the creation of a secular democracy with equal rights for all was barely questioned. Bennett acknowledged that President Izetbegovic’s published Islamic Declaration extolled the superiority of Islam over Christianity and Communism, and the virtues of an Islamic state, but concludes (without offering any evidence) that in the two decades since writing it Izetbegovic had “mellowed into a tolerant, albeit naïve, politician. In 1991 the allegations were nonsense…62” While Bennett seems certain of this, General Sir Michael Rose, who had a great deal of contact with Izetbegovic during the conflict, “came to believe that his talk of creating a multi-religious, multi-cultural State in Bosnia was a disguise for the extension of his own political power and the furtherance of Islam.63” Without seeking to resolve the problem of Izetbegovic’s private thoughts, it is clear that journalists who had relatively little contact with him were ready to make positive assumptions on his behalf.

  • 64  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War,op. cit., 47 and 54.
  • 65  Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, op. cit., 187.
  • 66   For a non-journalistic view of Delic, see the following: “Gen. Rasim Delic turned up wearing blue (...)

35The simple black-and-white approach is applied to all other leaders of the respective sides. Vulliamy for instance is particularly preoccupied with obesity: the Bosnian Serb General Mladic is a “curious, fat man” with a “pasty face”; the “portly” Dr Karadzic “waddles”; the Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj is “podgy”64. (Seselj is also described by Vulliamy as a “failed academic”, despite the fact that, as the youngest PhD candidate in Bosnia, he was dismissed from his academic post and imprisoned for his writings65.) Vulliamy does not reflect on the weight of the Bosnian army commander Rasim Delic, however, and although many journalists care to describe the way in which the Yugoslav army laid waste to Vukovar in the earlier Croatian war they do not  mention that Delic served there as a senior officer66.

36When the Serbian writer Momo Kapor tells Peter Morgan, describing Izetbegovic, that “You can see syphilis and fanaticism are within him from the construction of his face” while in Karadzic’s case “I see a lot of nobility…”, Morgan expresses outrage:

  • 67  Peter Morgan, A Barrel of Stones: In Search of Serbia, op. cit., 45.

By the time he started to divine character from faces, I had withdrawn altogether. Beneath all the rhetoric about national destiny and the Serbian mission, this was what Kapor’s ideas came down to: a petulant confection of pseudo science and stupefying bigotry67

However, pages earlier Morgan himself describes the Russian nationalist Zhirinovsky (on a supportive visit to Belgrade) as follows:

  • 68 Ibid., 21.

His pudgy face was set in a theatrical scowl: eyebrows lowered and mouth drawn down as if in stifling a persistent belch… here was someone who looked decidedly worse in the flesh than he ever did on camera… the appearance of a drunken uncle at a rural wedding68.

Morgan’s language and prejudices may be better attuned to the tastes of contemporary Western readers, but it would surely be disingenuous to deny that his description of Zhirinovsky’s face underlines his own disapproval.

37In an example which illustrates journalists’ presuppositions, Larry Hollingworth, who served in Bosnia with the UN’s humanitarian operation, describes the scene when a convoy was blocked by a mine. The party of journalists on board (including Jeremy Bowen of the BBC and Kurt Schork from Reuters) attributed blame as follows:

  • 69  Larry Hollingworth, Merry Christmas, Mr Larry, op. cit., 49-50.

 ‘The Serbs.’ They usually were blamed for everything so it was natural that someone should start off with them.
‘But why, what have they got to gain? Surely they would have mined the road on our way in to prevent us reaching Gorazde,’ said someone applying logic.
‘Yes, if they had laid it on our way in, the Serbs could easily have said it was part of the “Muslim” defence,’ added a man with a little more time in the Balkan behind him.
‘It was the Serbs. They did it, knowing that we would blame the “Muslims”. An old Balkan hand talking69.

Although Hollingworth uses this anecdote to illustrate “Balkan” cynicism, it is striking that at no stage are the journalists prepared specifically to blame the “Muslims”. Ironically, according to Hollingworth, the mine was laid by the “Muslims”.

  • 70  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 445-446.
  • 71  Rose, op. cit., 79.

38Simpson notes that when the Bosnian Government obstructed efforts to man electricity sub-stations it was barely reported (the utilities might have been important, but in media terms they were terribly dull)—and when UN troops discovered that Serb prisoners had been kept in a large sewage pipe for several weeks, with food thrown to them once a day amid the darkness and excrement, it was not deemed worthy of interest70. Rose similarly professes himself puzzled at the unwillingness of the international media to take up such causes, suggesting that “Maybe the incarceration of Serbs in inhuman conditions was not news.71” Loyd admits that when confronting a Muslim massacre of Croats he did not want to believe it: “It confused my loyalties and I knew it would jeopardize the war effort of the side I believed to be the victim.”

  • 72  See, for example, Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, (...)
  • 73  Bell, op. cit., 29.
  • 74 Ibid., 52.
  • 75 Ibid., 114.
  • 76 Ibid., 129-30. Simpson also quotes approvingly Nik Gowing’s comments:
    Some of the strongly anti-Ser (...)

39All parties to the conflict within the former Yugoslavia were accused of dehumanising their opponents72. But few journalists noted the danger that they might dehumanise the Serbs. An important exception is Bell, and it is striking when he explains this in his book that he contrasts himself with the journalistic norm. When the Bosnian Government reneged on an agreement at the early stages of the war and killed Serb soldiers leaving Sarajevo, he told his protesting editor in London: “Perhaps it’s not as simple as you would like it to be, but Serbs can be victims too…73” Comparing himself with Schork, who viewed war as an epic struggle between good and evil, Bell writes that “I meet more Serbs and see more shades of grey in it than he does…74” Questioning the impact of television reporting from Sarajevo he writes “…when had we ever shown a civilian victim of sniper fire on the Serb side of the lines? When had we reported from their hospitals?75” He also concludes that the partisan approach of journalists was perhaps “the flaw in the generally crusading character of the Sarajevo press corps.76

Responding to Bosnian media strategies

  • 77  The relative success of the Bosnians can be contrasted with the failings of the Serbs. According t (...)
  • 78  e.g. Rose, op. cit., 18; Owen, op. cit., 60 and Simpson, op. cit., 24.

40Given its initial military weakness, the overarching strategy of the Bosnian Government during the 1992-95 war was to bring about decisive intervention from Europe and, especially, America. The media became a key tool in this task77. This at least is how General Sir Michael Rose, David Owen and John Simpson explain it78.

  • 79  Bell, op. cit., 236; Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So,op. cit., 206.
  • 80  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating (...)

41Many journalists’ books refer to suggestions that, in advancing the case, the Bosnian authorities sought to enhance their victim status by concealing their military successes and parading their defeats79. More serious, and hotly disputed, are the suggestions that the Bosnian Government deliberately suppressed living standards for people in Sarajevo and encouraged the Serbs to bombard them at particular times and at sensitive places, such as the Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo, and even that the Bosnian armed forces staged acts of bombardment and sniping at their own side, for which the Serbs were quickly blamed and which were designed to act as photo-opportunities strengthening the case for intervention. There seems little doubt that the former tactic, at least, was used. In an otherwise bitterly critical review of Rose’s book Malcolm, writing of the Bosnian ploy of provoking artillery barrages, writes: “The tactic was indeed a callous one, and few observers of the war in Sarajevo would deny that it was employed from time to time.80

  • 81  Milos Stankovic, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkness, op. cit., 356 (...)
  • 82  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War,op. cit., 187-8.  Russell also found it h (...)

42The issue of whether the Bosnian authorities ever deliberately killed their own people is far more vexed, but the absence of conclusive proof does not prevent journalists from drawing conclusions. Certainly the willingness of journalists to believe in cynical manoeuvres, macabre photo-opportunities and pseudo-events of this kind seems to have more to do with their stance vis-à-vis the war than any particular evidence. Stankovic describes how when a French officer presented scientific ballistic evidence that indirect fire which killed three little girls could not have come form the Serbs, the press refused to believe it. When one Bosnian brigade mortared another the press simply reported that it was Serb mortars81. Vulliamy on the other hand describes “how the UN ‘information’ machine started playing strange games” and how UN officials briefed, unattributably, on Muslim attacks on their own people. While he does not advance any evidence of his own, he clearly does not believe the UN claims, and the incidents seem to be recorded in order to cast a dubious light on the UN and its motives82.

Sarajevo

  • 83  David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 60 and 85.
  • 84  Or so the Bosnian Serb politician Nikola Koljevic confided to Vulliamy (Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in He (...)
  • 85  Bell, op. cit., 113. Of course, once the expensive decision was taken to deploy television crews t (...)
  • 86  See, for example, Milos Stankovic, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkne (...)

43For most of the Bosnian War the press corps was based in Sarajevo. This focus seemed to have suited all parties: for the Bosnian Government the city was a powerful symbol of their victim status, and there are suggestions that the Bosnian Government preferred the siege to continue83; for the Serbs the city distracted world attention from their principal programme in other parts of Bosnia84. It was also convenient for television crews, which were relatively immobile and hence seldom ventured far afield85, and the city was the main news entrepot for visiting journalists. The effect was that Bosnia’s capital was continuously in the spotlight throughout the war, while other parts of the country—and the people who lived there—were only occasionally illuminated (for the UK media, British military bases were an important exception)86.

  • 87  Russell, op. cit., 261. The implied assumption of journalistic responsibility is striking. Accordi (...)
  • 88  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., 195.
  • 89  Loyd describes how his bullet proof vest brought only shame to him in the presence of people he kn (...)

44Many journalists developed a complex and intense emotional involvement with Sarajevo—in some cases before they arrived: Russell describes how when correspondents were still in Belgrade they felt a “nagging guilt” that they “were failing the people of Sarajevo”87, while Bennett describes journalists’ frequent feelings of embarrassment at their ignorance of Bosnian affairs88. They shared in most of the dangers faced by the city’s inhabitants and many of its hardships, but they were very conscious of their advantages: bullet proof vests (which many of them abandoned)89; special supplies of food and other necessities; and in some cases armoured vehicles. Above all they enjoyed the freedom to leave. Leaving her new-found Sarajevan friends at the end of her rotation Janine di Giovanni writes:

  • 90  Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, London: Phoenix House, 1994, (...)

I was flooded with emotions—relief, guilt, hunger, claustrophobia. I was thinking about Mario and Marija and about how easy it was to walk into their lives and then walk out90.

A feeling of guilt at the advantages they enjoyed was compounded by a feeling of helplessness at their inability to do more than observe, and by what they perceived as the inaction of the states of which they themselves were citizens. As di Giovanni puts it,

  • 91 Ibid., 2. Among the besieged in Pakrac during the Croatian war, Harris is “embarrassed by their tou (...)

The only way to channel the anger and, at times, the bitterness was to report what was happening inside the city and hope that someone was reading it91.

45As usual Loyd, who unusually spent much of his war up-country from Sarajevo, describes a more extreme form of impotent rage:

  • 92  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 151-2.

There are no words to describe this. A body no bigger than a black carrier bag cocktail-sticked by white tibia. Another half fired. Its head smashed in. Face-down. A child. And what do you say? Fuck fuck fuck fuck and Jesus fucking Christ. It’s not enough and the rage comes in like a hurricane and then you want them dead, the people who did this, you want the scum erased for this. You could do it yourself there and then at that moment, blast every one of them forward in a pink spray92.

  • 93  Having identified obesity as a Bosnian Serb problem (see above), Vulliamy is alive to the aestheti (...)
  • 94  Richard Bassett, Balkan Hours: Travels in the Other Europe, London: John Murray, 1990, 72 and 74. (...)
  • 95  For example, di Giovanni describes at length her friendship with a professor of English at Sarajev (...)
  • 96  Russell, op. cit., 266, Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, op. c (...)

46The Sarajevo press corps naturally empathised with those whose sufferings they shared, but also developed a strongly positive image of the city as cosmopolitan, sophisticated and tolerant, a symbol of Bosnia93. Whether this would have been so apparent but for the war is a moot point: Richard Bassett, a Times correspondent who described a visit to Sarajevo a few years before the war regarded the oriental heart of the city as “tawdry and unexciting” and also mentioned encountering anti-Semitism94. The war-time Sarajevo press corps became much more sympathetic. As co-sufferers of the siege they were heavily dependent on the Sarajevans they met and knew, most typically middle-class English speakers95. For the Western media Sarajevo’s working class barely existed. In this atmosphere myths could take root and be applied more generally to Bosnia as a whole: both di Giovanni and Russell cite the rate of intermarriage as an important illustration of Bosnia’s inter-ethnic harmony, but do not realise that they have been given the figure of around a quarter of marriages for Sarajevo, rather than the much lower one of ten to twelve per cent for the republic as a whole96.

  • 97  Sarajevo citizens thought the rest of the world was made up of papci and peasants according to Loy (...)

47It may well be that the strongly anti-rural bias of Sarajevo appealed to the overwhelmingly London-based British press contingent. The Serbs were ‘hill-people’ or papci (literally, “cloven-hoofs”)—a perception which became widespread97. Certainly in none of the paeans to tolerance in journalists’ accounts is there any pause for thought about whether prejudice against people living in the countryside is a permissible form of intolerance.

48Journalists’ strong identification with Sarajevo seems to have been a major ingredient in what made Bosnia special for journalists. Few journalists discuss why Bosnia aroused greater passions than other wars, but Bell devotes some pages to the issue:

  • 98  Bell, op. cit., 272.

It was not, as some have misinterpreted it, a racist argument, that the victims in Bosnia are white and the victims in Rwanda are black. It is a neighbourhood argument… It threatens the security of all of us, and we ignore it at our peril98.

49Given the credentials of the journalists under discussion, any imputation of racism is of course going to be strongly denied. Nonetheless Bell’s defensiveness is telling. If the threat to the UK’s security was really considered so pressing one might have expected more journalists to dwell on it: they did not. They probably sensed that the scale and remoteness of the conflict made it hard to conjure up a successful version of what propaganda critics term a “fear appeal”99. There is however evidence that there was much closer identification with the victims than in many Third World conflicts, and stressing “Europeanness” rather than skin pigmentation sidesteps accusations of overt racism. Morgan suggests that journalists may have been drawn to the region because it was “tolerably exotic: close enough in climate and general history to feel familiar, yet also absorbingly strange.100

50Normally the identification with fellow-Europeans in the Balkans is described in a subtler way: di Giovanni’s friend Professor Susko is:

  • 101  Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, op. cit., 20. There are many (...)

running out of pipe tobacco and dog biscuits. He’s got a few left from his last trip to England. Was it only eight months ago that he was living in Norwich, going for long walks around the pond101?

51The Bosnians’ own insistence on their Europeanness comes across in many accounts, and is cited approvingly, without any consideration of whether inhabiting a particular land mass should give them special rights (and others, presumably, lesser rights)102. Europeannesss—at least for the journalists concerned—has clearly become a “glittering generality”—a virtue word about which people have deep-seated ideas103. Not surprisingly di Giovanni along with other journalists is appalled when the UN Secretary-General tells the media that there are fourteen places in the world worse off than Sarajevo104. In a similar vein, Russell describes a meeting with Marcus Tanner of The Independent:

  • 105  Russell, op. cit., 286.

Like many of us, he had been listening to the BBC’s intensive coverage of the siege of the south Angolan city of Huambo, with a pained expression, as if to say, ‘the siege of where? But what about Bosnia?105

Perceptions—and self-perceptions— of journalists

  • 106  Rose, op. cit., 13-14.
  • 107 Colonel Bob Stewart, Broken Lives, op. cit., 12.

52The media feature prominently in many of the memoirs of military officers and officials involved in the wars in the former Yugoslavia. The media’s importance was highlighted well before the individuals concerned arrived in theatre. General Sir Michael Rose suggested to the then Prime Minister, John Major, that hostile press reports would be one of the main difficulties;  he was also reminded of the media by Sir David Hannay, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN106. In advance of his tour in Bosnia, Colonel Bob Stewart planned to bring the media “on side” as soon as possible107. Richard Holbrooke recalls President Clinton’s words to him when he took on his new role as negotiator:

  • 108  Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, op. cit., 58.

 ‘When you come back, I want you to get out there with the press a lot. You’re good at it, and we are in real trouble.’ Hillary Rodham Clinton later told me the same thing in even more explicit terms108.

  • 109  Rose, op. cit., 243. According to Stankovic, a British officer on Rose’s staff, Rose was to realis (...)
  • 110  David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 119.
  • 111  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, op. cit., 114.
  • 112  Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War, op. cit., 245.

This sense of the importance of the media continues as officers and officials come to terms with their tasks. Indeed for Rose “The greatest weakness of the UN mission in Bosnia was the inability of the UN to win the information battle”109, while David Owen writes that politicians and diplomats must learn to live with the CNN effect110. According to Nicholson, Colonel Bob Stewart “sometimes gave the impression that the war was secondary to the television coverage of it”111, while the sudden presence of Peter Arnett of CNN seems to register as a more serious statement of NATO’s intent than anything the Alliance itself said112.

53Many journalists may have relished this attention and the important role they were assigned. According to Bell:

  • 113  Bell, op. cit., 145.

If there is a besetting sin of journalists, especially of the television variety, it is an overweening sense of our own importance… What the world needs probably is not more of us but fewer, and humbler113

  • 114  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 91.
  • 115  When a kitten grabbed the brain of a dead volunteer from overseas Loyd’s companion remarks “Man, t (...)
  • 116 Ibid., 173. Typically, when Loyd meets a Serb in London he tells her “ ‘I hope NATO bombs Belgrade (...)

The public piety of journalists was all pervasive: they had an almost sacred duty to pass the message of what they saw and felt to the unconverted at home. The preferred tone was one of moral indignation. Any public utterance which stood in the way of this high-minded mission would have been sacrilegious and such insights have been largely excised from journalists’ memoirs. One exception is Loyd, whose book deliberately sets out to shatter taboos, even if in its confessional quality it has its own special note of moral outrage. He describes the excitement he felt, the sexual opportunities and companionship war provided—including an enjoyable summer watching burning villages over barbecues114, the shared jokes115, even the pleasure he found in the company of a notorious killer116.

  • 117  Simon Winchester, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, op. cit., 194.
  • 118  Bell, op. cit., 51. Stankovic, who relates Schork’s regular contact with Rose and his staff, descr (...)
  • 119 Ibid., 51 and 52.

54Although others must have been sharing the barbecues, the sex and the jokes, Loyd’s colleagues prefer more puritanical public personae. Nor was exultation in the manly pleasures of war deemed appropriate: in a rare exception Winchester, who seems to relish British armour and soldiery, says that when he had a beer with Mike Jackson the General said “I would be a ‘sissy’ if I didn’t meet him in Pristina by Saturday sunset”117. The preferred role model was Schork of Reuters, who adopted an almost biblical mantle as he “helped the helpless, rescued the wounded, and became the conscience in residence of the Sarajevo press corps”118. According to Bell, Schork “held the United Nations to its mandate” and for him the “Bosnian war was and still is an epic struggle between good and evil”119. For Loyd:

  • 120  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 142.

Kurt had that rare shining light that you seldom find in men, a quality which translates into apparently fathomless energy and drive… He had come to journalism late in life, and fast assumed the high priest’s mantle in the media’s coverage of the conflict in Bosnia… With all that focus, clinical detachment and subliminal anger, he would have made a fine killer120.

  • 121 Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-1992, op. cit., 36.
  • 122  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 111.

55Some journalists, in part perhaps guilt-ridden by what they saw as the failures of western policy, sought to assuage their feelings (and make their names) by precipitating action. Describing the Sarajevo bread queue massacre in 1992 Harris writes that “it must be every journalist’s dream to write a story or take a picture which has such a dramatic effect.121” Loyd “believed that if you showed enough people something that was flagrantly evil, they would react to try to stop it.122” Russell describes how this might be done:

  • 123  Russell, op. cit., 274.

There was still the belief that maybe someone in the West would decide that something had to be done whatever the cost. It was with this in mind that Maggie O’Kane and I decided to make a try for Gorazde…No one had been to Gorazde since the siege began. It was, we said, going to be the killer blow123.

  • 124  Bell, op. cit., 142.
  • 125 Ibid., 39.
  • 126 Ibid., 129-30 and 141.

56On various pages of his book Bell describes an ambivalent attitude towards journalistic involvement in policy making. He explains that it is not a reporter’s job to campaign124 but that he “greatly admired” some journalists in Bosnia who went on “crusades”125. He felt that the partisanship of the Sarajevo press corps was perhaps its flaw, but that its role remained a long way from usurping the functions of government126.

  • 127  Rose, op. cit., 163.
  • 128 Ibid., 53.

57Many observers were contemptuous of the behaviour of the Sarajevo press corps. Although Rose admitted there were exceptions, he saw them as “a pack of jackals circling the decaying corpse of Bosnia”127, while his bodyguard (who seems to function as a comic alter ego in Rose’s account and is always quoted approvingly) “held them in the same contempt as he did the warring parties”128. Nicholson describes the atmosphere during press conferences in Sarajevo:

  • 129  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, op. cit., 196.

They were particularly hostile, bad tempered and bad mannered, where journalists high on ego trips acted like clowns, attacking the military and civilian briefers… I never failed to be astonished that they allowed themselves to be treated with such contempt, foul language and ridicule129.

  • 130  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 81.

58Loyd, who largely worked outside Sarajevo, originally found the media group in Sarajevo “cliquey and remote”130. He offers one of the few cynical accounts of news-gathering:

  • 131 Ibid., 179. Simon Winchester describes the same process in the Kosovo war (Simon Winchester, The Fr (...)

Too many simply walked into the basement of the Holiday Inn each day, drove out in an armoured car to UN headquarters, grabbed a few details, filled them in with the words of ‘real people’ acquired for them by their local fixers, and then returned to their sanctuary to file their heartfelt vitriol with scarcely a hair out of place131.

  • 132 Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, op. cit., 25.
  • 133 Ibid., 37. As he puts it elsewhere, “Nothing makes an easier lead sentence than a stray mortar roun (...)

Harris had noted something similar during the Croatian war, where journalists often elected to cover the war from hotels132, contrasting the dangers of the frontline to the advantages of covering hospitals, mortuaries or refugee camps133.

59The Sarajevo press corps could be sharply critical of the callous sensationalism of reporters from the outside world, often from the popular press, who turned up for particular media events. Di Giovanni describes the influx of journalists who arrived for the evacuation of Irma Hadzimuratovic:

  • 134  Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, op. cit., 41.

 ‘I’m so sick of them,’ said one of the more acerbic Bosnian journalists… ‘They come here like vultures, looking for the dead’… One of the reporters had gone up to her asking if she thought there would be a mortar attack that afternoon so that he could interview the victims134.

Conclusion

60At the time most of what the outside world knew about the wars was filtered by journalists such as those discussed above—and it can certainly be argued that the words and images which they were responsible for transmitting had an immense impact in the outside world. Because they had the last word there was little real scope for scrutiny. They became a high priesthood which scorned dissent and was increasingly preoccupied with campaigning rather than reporting. This analysis demonstrates how the journalistic ideals of objectivity and independence expressed in C P Scott’s famous maxim “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”135—guidance which seems to put clear blue water between journalism and propaganda—came under strain when put to the test. Facts seem to have been selected with persuasive intent, and a range of emotionally-loaded stratagems used. Indeed journalists were capable of considerable hypocrisy and of utilising many of the propagandistic tricks which they abhorred when used by the warring parties (and particularly the Serbs). Journalists are usually at pains to distinguish themselves from propagandists, but on this occasion many came perilously close.

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Bibliographie

Allcock, John B., Milivojevic, Marko, Horton, John J. (eds., with foreword by Martin Bell, MP), Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedia, Denver, Santa Barbara, Oxford: ABC-CLIO Roots of Modern Conflict series, 1999.

Bassett Richard, Balkan Hours: Travels in the Other Europe, London: John Murray, 1990.

BELL Martin, In Harm’s Way: Reflections of a War-Zone Thug, London: Penguin, 1996 [1995].

Bennett Christopher, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, London: Hurst, 1995.

Burns John, “Conflict Reporting or Conflict Encouragement in Former Yugoslavia” in James Gow, Richard Paterson, Alison Preston (eds.), Bosnia by Television, London: British Film Institute, 1996.

di Giovanni Janine, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, London: Phoenix House, 1994.

Glenny Misha, The Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War, London: Penguin, 1992.

Gutman Roy, Witness to Genocide: The First Inside Account of the Horrors of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in Bosnia, Shaftesbury, Rockport and Brisbane: Element, 1993.

Harris Paul,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, Stevenage: Spa, 1992.

Hickman Alex, Slow Winter, Bridgnorth: Travellers Eye, 2000.

Hoare Quentin and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating to Bosnia-Herzegovina published since 1990 in West European languages, London: The Bosnian Institute, 1999.

Holbrooke Richard, To End a War, New York: Random House, 1998.

Hollingworth Larry, Merry Christmas, Mr Larry, London: Heinemann, 1996.

Jelavich Barbara, History of the Balkans: Twentieth Century, Cambridge: CUP, 1983.

Judah Tim, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, London and New Haven: Yale, 2000.

Keane Fergal, Letters Home, London: Penguin, 1999.

Loyd Anthony, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, London: Anchor, 2000 [1999].

MALCOLM Noel, Bosnia: A Short History. London: Macmillan, 1994.

---  Kosovo: A Short History, London, Macmillan, 1998.

Morgan Peter, A Barrel of Stones: In Search of Serbia,Aberystwyth: Planet, 1997.

Nicholson Michael, Natasha’s Story, London: Pan, 1994 [1993].

O’Shaughnessy Nicholas, Politics and Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Seduction, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004.

Owen David, Balkan Odyssey, London: Victor Gollancz, 1995.

Prentice Eve-Ann, One Woman’s War: Life and Death on Deadline, London: Duckworth, 2000.

Rieff David, Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the failure of the West, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Robbins Bruce, Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress, New York and London: New York University Press, 1999.

Rohde David, A Safe Area [Endgame in the USA], SrebrenicaEurope’s Worst Massacre since the Second World War, London: Simon and Schuster, 1997.

ROSE General Sir Michael, Fighting for Peace: Bosnia 1994, London: Harvill, 1998.

RUSSELL Alec, Prejudice and Plum Brandy: Tales of a Balkan Stringer, London: Michael Joseph, 1993.

Simpson John, Strange Places, Questionable People, London: Pan, 1999 [1998].

STANKOVIC Milos, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkness, London: Harper Collins, 2000.

Stewart Bob, Broken Lives, London: Harper Collins, 1994.

Vulliamy Ed, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, London: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Winchester Simon, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, London: Viking, 1999.

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Notes

1  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, London: Pan, 1994 [1993], 16. The book describes how Nicholson, an ITN correspondent, and his wife were nonetheless prepared to adopt a Balkan person as their daughter.

2  Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, Politics and Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Seduction, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004.

3   Author of Bosnia: A Short History. London: Macmillan, 1994; and Kosovo: A Short History, London, Macmillan, 1998.

4  Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War, London: Penguin, 1992.

5  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating to Bosnia-Herzegovina published since 1990 in West European languages, London: The Bosnian Institute, 1999, 43. Glenny had reported on the conflict for the BBC.

6  Fergal Keane, Letters Home, London: Penguin, 1999, 60. Keane concedes: “I could hear what my voice really sounded like. Sanctimonious, hectoring, declamatory…”, Ibidem.

7  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, London: Hurst, 1995, viii.

8 Ibid., 184.

9  For instance, readers of The Sun, Britain’s best-selling daily newspaper,voted that the Yugoslav conflict was the paper’s most boring subject. Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, Stevenage: Spa, 1992, 40.

10  According to Simon Winchester: “One might say that anyone who inhabited such a place for a long period would probably evolve into something that varied substantially, for good or ill, from whatever is the human norm.” Simon Winchester, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, London: Viking, 1999, 61-2.

11  Simon Winchester refers to it as a “great swamp”, op. cit., 213.

12  Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, London and New Haven: Yale, 2000, xi.

13 Ibid., 74.

14  Simon Winchester, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, op. cit., 199-200.

15  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating to Bosnia-Herzegovina published since 1990 in West European languages, op. cit., xxi. Malcolm was a founder of the Alliance to Defend Bosnia-Herzegovina.

16  Alec Russell, Prejudice and Plum Brandy: Tales of a Balkan Stringer, London: Michael Joseph, 1993, 141. Perhaps Russell was doomed not to understand. As he says himself, “…A non-Balkan could never fully understand the Balkan mind…”, ibid., 178. Russell remarks elsewhere that “it is almost impossible to comprehend the Balkan fixation with history”, a view which is at odds with his notion that few Bosnians nursed grudges. Russell, Ibid., 256 and 266-267.

17  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating to Bosnia-Herzegovina published since 1990 in West European languages, op. cit., 251.

18  Quoted in David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, London: Victor Gollancz, 1995, 37. Owen comments that Andric was “criticized by many Sarajevan intellectuals for painting too harsh a picture of what he called his ‘dark country’.” Ibidem. It is possible that this encouraged journalists not to take Andric’s views too seriously. More tellingly still, given most journalists’ contact with the Bosnian middle classes, Andric continues, in the same text: “There has always been, in Bosnian bourgeois circles, an abundance of false bourgeois courtesy, wise self-deception and deception of others with pleasant-sounding words and empty ceremonies. This more of less disguises hatred, but does not remove it or prevent its growth”. (Quoted in Yugofax, No. 8, 9 December 1991, p. 8, col. 3).

19  See, for example, Russell, op. cit., 266.

20  Martin Bell, In Harm’s Way: Reflections of a War-Zone Thug, London: Penguin, 1996 [1995],132.

21  For example, “ ‘History’, or at least a bloodshot version of it, has been one of the principal motors behind this war.” (Peter Morgan, A Barrel of Stones: In Search of Serbia,Aberystwyth: Planet, 1997, i) or “…history dominates every interview in the Bosnian war. The answer to a question about an artillery attack yesterday will begin in the year 925…” Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, London: Simon & Schuster, 1994, 5.

22  See, for example, Paul Harris, who freelanced for a range of British newspapers and makes reference to the parallels with Hitler’s drive for Lebensraum. Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, op. cit.. Nicholson invokes the memory of “Herr Himmler’s Final Solution”, op. cit., 85. Judah draws parallels with Nazi deeds and Serb actions in Bosnia (Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, op. cit., 204-5). As Simpson put it, “…it became very hard to understand what was going on, because everything came to be seen through the filter of the Holocaust.” John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, London: Pan, 1999 [1998], 449.

23  Peter Morgan, A Barrel of Stones: In Search of Serbia, op. cit., i.

24 Ibid., ii-iii.

25  Russell, op. cit., 258.

26 Ibid., 266-67.

27  Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, New York: Random House, 1998, 41.

28  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, op. cit., xii. Similar sentiments are expressed by Fergal Keane, Letters Home, op. cit., 76-79.

29  <http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ct.wg.name.html>, accessed 31 March 2007.

30  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 449. The notion of the hunt of course underlines Simpson’s view that most journalists in Bosnia were operating like a herd or pack. In the introduction to his book Vulliamy says that “There is no attempt here to be objective towards the perpetrators of Bosnia’s ethnic carnage or those who appeased them.” (Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, op. cit., xi.)

31  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 449.  In One Woman’s War: Life and Death on Deadline, London: Duckworth, 2000, 151, Eve-Ann Prentice relates how a sensation-hungry American reporter was told about a Serb who raped prisoners at the Omarska camp in Bosnia. He passed the information to the Hague tribunal which had to drop charges when it emerged that the accused was a fictional character from a novel.

32  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 440. Nicholson says that “Too many men and women, or more often boys and girls, came to Sarajevo masquerading as journalists…” (Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, op. cit., 196).

33  Bell, op. cit., 51.

34  Prentice, born in 1952, writes how she could never quite step out of the shadow of the Second World War, while colleagues less than ten years younger seemed “light-years distant in temperament and outlook”. She indignantly recalls a colleague who believed the Second World War ended in 1943. Eve-Ann Prentice, One Woman’s War: Life and Death on Deadline, op. cit., 37.

35  Loyd describes his problems with his friends back in London, (Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, London: Anchor, 2000 [1999], 123). David Rieff  “felt like an alien” trying to take up his life again (quoted in Bruce Robbins, Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress, New York and London: New York University Press, 1999, 15).

36  This is an example of the propaganda technique known as the bandwagon, where herd instinct is used to make people conform. <http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ct.sa.bandwagon.html>, accessed 31 March 2007.

37  Loyd is characteristically frank: “I got my ‘break’ as a war correspondent at the expense of a mutilated girl, one dead prisoner, probably two, and a wounded journalist.” (Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 103).

38  e.g. Russell, op. cit., 252; Harris,op. cit., 40 and Nicholson, op. cit., 195.

39  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., viii.

40  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 66 and 207.

41  Alex Hickman, Slow Winter, Bridgnorth: Travellers Eye, 2000, 12-13.

42 Paul Harris,Somebody  Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, op. cit., 44. Loyd frequently expresses similar sentiments.

43 Ibidem.

44 Ibidem.

45  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 213.

46 Ibid., 47.

47 Ibid., 30.

48  Roy Gutman, Witness to Genocide: The First Inside Account of the Horrors of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in Bosnia, Shaftesbury, Rockport and Brisbane: Element, 1993, 7. Gutman says that by June 1993, a relatively early stage in the war, 200-250,000 people could have been killed in Bosnia, “well over 10 per cent of the Muslim population” (i.e. suggesting none of the other ethnic groups suffering any casualties at all), ibid., xxxi. He does not reflect on Silajdzic’s uncanny prescience.

49  Owen certainly knew of no accurate figures (David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 80).

50  When General Morillon denied that a particular, much reported massacre had taken place (“Je n’ai pas senti l’odeur de la mort”) journalists “were not impressed”: Larry Hollingworth, Merry Christmas, Mr Larry, London: Heinemann, 1996. For more examples of a military officer in the field experiencing exaggerations, see Colonel Bob Stewart, Broken Lives, London: Harper Collins, 1994, 98 and 267.

51  General Sir Michael Rose, Fighting for Peace: Bosnia: Bosnia 1994, London: Harvill, 235.

52  David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 80. Intriguingly, if Kenney’s figures are right, and the Bosnian Government’s slightly exaggerated, it would mean that the Bosnian War was perhaps not the worst in Europe since the Second World War, although this was a status which it was frequently accorded by journalists: deaths in the Greek Civil War have been estimated at 108,000 (Barbara Jelavich, History of the Balkans: Twentieth Century, Cambridge: CUP, 1983).

53  Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, op. cit., 310. His figures are drawn from a report in The Independent.

54  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., 3.

55  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 449. Compared with the British, titles of books by American journalists provide an extreme example of the need to highlight the bloodshed. Apart from Gutman’s Witness to Genocide (Roy Gutman, Witness to Genocide: The First Inside Account of the Horrors of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in Bosnia, op. cit.), other examples include A Safe Area [Endgame in the USA], SrebrenicaEurope’s Worst Massacre since the Second World War by David Rohde, London: Simon and Schuster, 1997); and Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the failure of the West by David Rieff, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

56  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, op. cit., 90-93. The main elements of Nicholson’s account are confirmed in John B. Allcock, Marko Milivojevic, John J. Horton (ed., with foreword by Martin Bell, MP), Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedia, Denver, Santa Barbara, Oxford: ABC-CLIO Roots of Modern Conflict series, 1999.

57  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War,op. cit., 196.

58 Ibid., 192-194. These points are made by John Burns in “Conflict Reporting or Conflict Encouragement in Former Yugoslavia” in James Gow, Richard Paterson, Alison Preston, eds., Bosnia by Television, London: British Film Institute, 1996, 95.  

59  Bruce Robbins, Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress, op. cit., 142.

60  For example, “Those of us who didn’t join the claque were much criticized. I overheard one of the local translators hired by the BBC telling someone else that I was pro-Serb; not a good thing to be in Sarajevo at that time”, John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 446.

61  There is no proof of his intentions according to Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedia, op. cit., 106.

62  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., 184.

63  Rose, op. cit., 38. According to Rose, Izetbegovic’s Vice-President Ejup Ganic once said that “ultimately  Muslims from Bosnia, Sanjak [which straddles Serbia and Montenegro], Kosovo and Albania would form a single political entity” (Ibid., 26), not an issue explored in any of the books by journalists of which I am aware.

64  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War,op. cit., 47 and 54.

65  Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, op. cit., 187.

66   For a non-journalistic view of Delic, see the following: “Gen. Rasim Delic turned up wearing blue ankle-length Chelsea boots and looking more obese than ever. I often wondered how he could put on so much weight, with people starving all around him in Sarajevo.” Rose, op. cit., 61. It is hard to imagine a similar description of Delic being neglected by journalists had he been a Bosnian Serb general. Delic’s previous career is mentioned in Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyclopedia, op. cit., 71.

67  Peter Morgan, A Barrel of Stones: In Search of Serbia, op. cit., 45.

68 Ibid., 21.

69  Larry Hollingworth, Merry Christmas, Mr Larry, op. cit., 49-50.

70  John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 445-446.

71  Rose, op. cit., 79.

72  See, for example, Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, op. cit., 19.

73  Bell, op. cit., 29.

74 Ibid., 52.

75 Ibid., 114.

76 Ibid., 129-30. Simpson also quotes approvingly Nik Gowing’s comments:
Some of the strongly anti-Serb reporting in Bosnia is the secret shame of journalism. There is a cancer now which is affecting journalism: it is the unspoken issue of partiality and bias in foreign reporting (John Simpson, Strange Places, Questionable People, op. cit., 449).

77  The relative success of the Bosnians can be contrasted with the failings of the Serbs. According to Judah, Sonia Karadzic, head of the International Press Centre in Pale “did almost as much to undermine the Serbian position in the world as her father himself” (Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, op. cit., 221); Stankovic describes her as running the “Bosnian Serb press disaster” (Milos Stankovic, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkness, London, Harper Collins, 2000, 334).

78  e.g. Rose, op. cit., 18; Owen, op. cit., 60 and Simpson, op. cit., 24.

79  Bell, op. cit., 236; Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So,op. cit., 206.

80  Quentin Hoare and Noel Malcolm (eds.), Books on Bosnia: a critical bibliography of works relating to Bosnia-Herzegovina published since 1990 in West European languages, op. cit., 143.

81  Milos Stankovic, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkness, op. cit., 356 and 207.

82  Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War,op. cit., 187-8.  Russell also found it hard to believe UN suggestions that the Bosnians were shelling their own side (Russell, op. cit., 267.)

83  David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 60 and 85.

84  Or so the Bosnian Serb politician Nikola Koljevic confided to Vulliamy (Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War,op. cit., 96).

85  Bell, op. cit., 113. Of course, once the expensive decision was taken to deploy television crews they had to be used. While they remained in Bosnian government controlled Sarajevo the only atrocities they could show were those inflicted by the besieging Serbs.

86  See, for example, Milos Stankovic, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkness, op. cit., 104, for examples of battles raging unreported across Bosnia for lack of reporters; Stankovic also notes that, following Croat-Muslim fighting, Mostar looked like Stalingrad (ibid., 248), whereas for Simon Winchester it was like Dresden or the London docks after a night of incendiaries (Simon Winchester, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, op. cit., 112).

87  Russell, op. cit., 261. The implied assumption of journalistic responsibility is striking. According to Keane, some of his friends “had lost their hearts to the place.” (Fergal Keane, Letters Home, op. cit., 59).

88  Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., 195.

89  Loyd describes how his bullet proof vest brought only shame to him in the presence of people he knew (Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit.,  22); Hickman abandoned his, observing that none of the locals had one (Alex Hickman, Slow Winter, op. cit., 19).

90  Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, London: Phoenix House, 1994, 45.

91 Ibid., 2. Among the besieged in Pakrac during the Croatian war, Harris is “embarrassed by their touching faith in the toothless lion of the EEC.” (Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, op. cit., 67.)

92  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 151-2.

93  Having identified obesity as a Bosnian Serb problem (see above), Vulliamy is alive to the aesthetic superiority of Sarajevo:

   The Sarajevans have a certain dignity about them. They are generally very courteous to each other; the girls—many of them very beautiful—take an almost absurd care over their appearance. (Ed Vulliamy, op. cit., 78)

94  Richard Bassett, Balkan Hours: Travels in the Other Europe, London: John Murray, 1990, 72 and 74. Judah also describes the murders of Serbs in the city during the war, noting that the Bosnian government did little about it. This too does not feature in other accounts. (Tim Judah, The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, op. cit., 217.)

95  For example, di Giovanni describes at length her friendship with a professor of English at Sarajevo University. In Russell’s case “Most of the material for my despatches was gleaned from traipsing the city with two archetypal Sarajlije…Articulate, well-read…”, (Russell, op. cit., 268). Bennett describes the relationship between personal friendships forged in Sarajevo and emotional commitment to Bosnia, (Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course and Consequences, op. cit., 195).

96  Russell, op. cit., 266, Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, op. cit., 7. Correct figures are provided in Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia: An Encyplopedia, op. cit., 124, where the point is made that even in Sarajevo rates of intermarriage were not particularly high.  (Indeed if rates of around a quarter were achieved in large cities such as Sarajevo then the proportion in rural areas must have been well below ten per cent.)

97  Sarajevo citizens thought the rest of the world was made up of papci and peasants according to Loyd: (Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 107). “People in Sarajevo will tell you this is a war between raja and papak”, (Ed Vulliamy, Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, op. cit., 40).

98  Bell, op. cit., 272.

99  <http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ct.sa.fear.html>, accessed 31 March 2007.

100  Peter Morgan, A Barrel of Stones: In Search of Serbia, op. cit., 48.

101  Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, op. cit., 20. There are many similar occidentalising accounts of journalists’ local friends in Sarajevo.

102  e.g. Russell, op. cit., 286.

103  <http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/ct.wg.gg.html>, accessed 31 March 2007.

104  Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, op. cit., 40. Boutros Ghali also described the Bosnian war as a “rich man’s war”.

105  Russell, op. cit., 286.

106  Rose, op. cit., 13-14.

107 Colonel Bob Stewart, Broken Lives, op. cit., 12.

108  Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, op. cit., 58.

109  Rose, op. cit., 243. According to Stankovic, a British officer on Rose’s staff, Rose was to realise that “seventy per cent of effort needed to be directed towards the media”. (Milos Stankovic, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkness, op. cit., 327.)

110  David Owen, Balkan Odyssey, op. cit., 119.

111  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, op. cit., 114.

112  Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War, op. cit., 245.

113  Bell, op. cit., 145.

114  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 91.

115  When a kitten grabbed the brain of a dead volunteer from overseas Loyd’s companion remarks “Man, the guy sure came a long way to end up as a Kit-e-Kat”, Ibid., 96.

116 Ibid., 173. Typically, when Loyd meets a Serb in London he tells her “ ‘I hope NATO bombs Belgrade until it’s flat and smoking’ […] A couple of days afterwards we screwed each other in her flat: proxy war repackaged as love…I wanted to bite her, scratch her, hurt her, fuck her, love her. I adored her.” She left him. (Ibid., 295).

117  Simon Winchester, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, op. cit., 194.

118  Bell, op. cit., 51. Stankovic, who relates Schork’s regular contact with Rose and his staff, describes Schork as “bearded, earnest…”, (Milos Stankovic, Trusted Mole: A Soldier’s Journey into Bosnia’s Heart of Darkness, op. cit., 260).

119 Ibid., 51 and 52.

120  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 142.

121 Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-1992, op. cit., 36.

122  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 111.

123  Russell, op. cit., 274.

124  Bell, op. cit., 142.

125 Ibid., 39.

126 Ibid., 129-30 and 141.

127  Rose, op. cit., 163.

128 Ibid., 53.

129  Michael Nicholson, Natasha’s Story, op. cit., 196.

130  Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, op. cit., 81.

131 Ibid., 179. Simon Winchester describes the same process in the Kosovo war (Simon Winchester, The Fracture Zone: A Return to the Balkans, op. cit., 138 and 161-162).

132 Paul Harris,Somebody Else’s War: Frontline reports from the Balkan Wars 1991-92, op. cit., 25.

133 Ibid., 37. As he puts it elsewhere, “Nothing makes an easier lead sentence than a stray mortar round hitting a starving baby in a typhus hospital.” Ibid., 41.

134  Janine di Giovanni, The Quick and the Dead: Under Siege in Sarajevo, op. cit., 41.

135  <http://www.guardian.co.uk/newsroom/story/0,11718,850815,00.html>, accessed 31 March 2007.

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Simon Goldsworthy

(London, United Kingdom)
Simon Goldsworthy is Senior Lecturer in Public Communication in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Westminster, where he founded the MA in Public Communication and Public Relations. His articles include “PR ethics: forever a will o’ the wisp?”, “English nonconformity and the pioneering of the modern newspaper campaign”, and “Advertising as the fall guy for consumerism: the real and perceived roles of public relations and advertising in contemporary ‘propaganda’.” With Trevor Morris, he is the author of Public Relations for Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and the forthcoming PR: A Persuasive Industry? Public Relations, Spin and the Shaping of the Modern Media and Public Relations for the New Europe.

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