Mainstream Media Representation

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  • by Anup Shah
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According to a media advisory from media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), "New evidence has emerged confirming that the U.S. deliberately set out to thwart the Rambouillet peace talks in France in order to provide a 'trigger' for NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia." This has serious ramifications -- from the role of the media to the intentions of NATO.

A senior US State Department official has admitted that the US "deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept" and that they needed some bombing and yet the mainstream media has ignored this.

Of all the mass graves and other massacre sites that the western media used to drum up support for the NATO campaign, subsequent investigations by various western institutions found none of them. See this article titled Where Are All the Bodies Buried? by Michael Parenti. Also, see Doubts on a Massacre: Media Ignore Questions About Incident That Sparked Kosovo War from FAIR.

It is also remarkable that NATO has achieved a peace treaty that is almost the same as what was proposed before the bombing began except that it has been very costly to human life and the environment. In fact, both NATO and Milosevic have actually given up some aspects of what the original Rambouillet accord demanded (not that the Rambouillet accord was very fair anyway, but it shows that even some of those demands were lost). Even the Ethnic Albanians have also lost out as the latest peace initiative and resolution does not discuss even the Kosovo Autonomy that the Rambouillet accord suggested. For a nicely summarized table of who gave up and gained what from this conflict, see this link. The mainstream media again has not really analysed this -- yet.

Mainstream media representation of the crisis was very one-sided, just as it apparently was in 1992 during the Bosnia/Croatia/Serbia conflict's media coverage. Serbs also cracked down on media reporting, enforcing much censorship and had its own propaganda machine in place, often coming out with claims that could not be substantiated. However, a propaganda model was also in place in Western nations to help the NATO war machine.

The Kosovo Liberation Army was dismissed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as "no more than terrorists"

John Pilger, Morality? Don't make me laugh, The Guardian, April 20, 1999

In the Kosovo Crisis we saw many mainstream media reports all mention how the Ethnic Albanians had agreed to a proposed peace plan by NATO and how the Serbs refuse point-blank to accept these. The aggression by Milosevic and Serbian forces were horrendous and no one can deny that. However, both sides were involved in war crimes. The KLA had also been involved in some aggression. It had even killed other Ethnic Albanians who oppose the violent opposition (as the Ethnic, Muslim, Albanians initially started a huge non-violent movement based on co-operation. This aspect did not received much coverage from the west's mainstream media).

On this page:

  1. Claims Which Are Not be Verified, or Cannot be Followed Up.
  2. Media Ignores Many Root Causes
  3. Selective or Partial Media Analysis
  4. Different Coverage and Portrayal in the Past
  5. Media Ignores NATO's Violation of International Law
  6. How does the Media Play a Role in this War?

Claims Which Are Not be Verified, or Cannot be Followed Up.

"In sum, NATO leaders used vastly inflated estimates of murdered Kosovo Albanians as a pretext to intrude on the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, destroy much of its infrastructure and social production, badly damage its ecology, kill a substantial number of its citizens, and invade and occupy a large portion of its territory in what can only be termed a war of aggression."

Michael Parenti, Where Are All the Bodies Buried?, ZMagazine, June 2000

The Serb media often came out with claims that could not be verified. However, NATO did too. And while the West's media treated Serb claims with appropriate suspicion, NATO claims were just taken without any research into how valid and truthful they may have been. It's as if it is unimaginable that NATO would have a propaganda model in place itself. And when some journalists did try and criticize NATOs actions, they were often accused of being pro-Milosoevic or something -- just because Milosevic may be wrong does not make NATO right.

The NATO bombing of the Serb TV stations was claimed to help stop Serb/Milosevic propaganda being delivered to the Serb people. Unfortunately it has also meant that NATO effects of bombing are also prevented from being reported effectively.

Most shockingly, despite all the rhetoric from some NATO countries like the US, and from the mainstream media, subsequent investigations into those mass graves after the bombing ended resulted in the UN finding none, as pointed out in this previous link by Michael Parenti. This raises questions on western mainstream media and journalists who just toed the official lines, without considering that "official" sources may themselves be part of another propaganda.

"On April 19, the [US] State Department states that up to 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing or feared dead. On May 16, [US] Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said that up to 100,000 Albanian men in Kosovo had vanished and may have been killed. ... On November 11 a New York Times article reported that after five months of investigation and exhumation of 195 most serious grave sites, reported to hold thousands of bodies, they had not found even a fraction of the reported 500,000 or 100,000 bodies. Their total count was 2,108 bodies throughout the province. They found no mass graves."

Sara Flounders, Censored 2000; The News That Didn't Make The News, (Seven Stories, 2000), p. 43

This also goes for the Racak massacre, where 45 people were said to be killed. Subsequent investigations since the bombing ended didn't find such evidence, and yet this has often been said as the main event that convinced NATO to go to war. However, the US mainstream media ignored this.

There are of course questions and concerns about whether bodies from mass graves were in some way hidden, moved, destroyed etc, and there have been claims of such things. But they are claims only which are not all verified. For sure there are likely to have been graves and horrible murders, rape etc, as an unfortunate consequence of war, but one of the issues here is how the media repeated these claims in the leadup to the war, in essence, unwittingly or not, druming support for military reaction.

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Media Ignores Many Root Causes

Yet, many issues surrounding the peace plans, NATO build up, political agendas, history of the entire area that has led to current tensions -- not just the Milosevic propaganda about the historical site in Kosovo thus rallying Serb troops to a cause to fight for, but the various events since World War II, for example -- etc. were ignored in these mainstream media reports and much critique or analysis of the process has not been part of this public debate.

The economic history of the region had also been ignored as a cause of the crisis. As has been criticized in many other parts of the world, here too, US/IMF loans and conditional policies had imposed harsh conditions on people throughout Yugoslavia, before Milosevic. It helped increase ethnic tensions as well.

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Selective or Partial Media Analysis

Many of the analysts who appeared on US news television programs to help justify the NATO bombings were retired military personnel. There was almost no analysis from any peace/humanitarian activists to provide a more balanced argument. This interesting report from FAIR provides some statistics on the slant of some major mainstream media coverage.

The media also ignored the fact that apparently the KLA said that they were betrayed by NATO.

Leading up to the bombing campaign, NATO tried to gather various delegations in France, near Paris to agree on what would later be known as the Rambouillet Accords. This was to be one of the last attempts at peace talks, else war would likely be the only alternative. The Kosvoar delegation was pressured to accept the agreement though it did not have explicit terms regarding independence, which the KLA had pressured the Kosovar delegates to ensure were in there (though NATO could not accomodate this.) For the Serbs, the agreement had provisions that would let NATO go anywhere in Yugoslavia as they pleased, which was regarded as military occupation, and so they could not accept this aspect. When the Kosovar group accepted, it then became presented as how the Serbs rejected peace, and Kosovars supported peace. They had agreed in condition that at a later date discussions of independence may be entertained.

The media portrayal of this issue didn't mention or analyze objectively the actual military and civilian provisions of the peace deal (which could perhaps help us understand why the Serbs refused to accept these). For example, the military provision talked about military control and unaccountability (almost literally doing what they want) of other unspecified nations on Serb territory. Any country, with a ruthless leader or not, would not accept such a deal, especially when the United Nations is not involved in this.

In addition, a BBC documentary on January 5, 2003 (titled "The Fall of Milosevic") revealed some important aspects to the negotiation process at Rambouillet. The documentary interviewed many NATO leaders and ministers involved at the time in the negotiations. In that documentary, the Italian Foreign Minister Dini revealed that the peace agreement that had been drawn up was the means to justify war; that NATO had to get the Kosovars to accept it so that the Serbs would be shown to be in the wrong. This suggested that the purpose of the accords had as much the idea to justify war, as there was to really discuss peace. That both Kosovars and Serbs had serious concerns with the accord did not seem to be a problem. That there was an 'agreement' was enough for the media to look at without analyzing it from these angles.

Yet, this was not a new revelation in 2003. In May 1999, a senior US State Department official had admitted that the US "set the bar too high" for the Serbs and that they needed some bombing and yet the mainstream media appeared to ignored this aspect.

And according to a FAIR media advisory in June 1999, "New evidence has emerged confirming that the U.S. deliberately set out to thwart the Rambouillet peace talks in France in order to provide a 'trigger' for NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.". Furthermore, as FAIR concluded, "The revelation that American reporters knew about a U.S. strategy to create a pretext for NATO's war on Yugoslavia -- but did not report on it -- raises serious questions about the independence of mainstream news organizations."

The consequences by not raising awareness of such aspects in the mainstream could be seen in the coming months after those talks.

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Different Coverage and Portrayal in the Past

"President Milosevic, is a man we can do business with, a man who recognizes the realities of life in former Yugoslavia."

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy, 1995. Quoted from this Guardian News report.

In fact, over a decade ago, the New York times did report on this region in a way that today would look like Milisovic propaganda. This link is from FAIR, who have provided the New York Times article. There are always many sides to the story and while nothing can justify the aggression which forced so many Kosovars to flee to neighboring areas, this does help shed some light as to what was happening in the region.

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Media Ignores NATO's Violation of International Law

The fact that US/NATO broke international law seems to have been missed out in all the various press reports from mainstream media.

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How does the Media Play a Role in this War?

So, perhaps the role of the mainstream media, in the West, has been less objective than we should expect, not verifying the various claims that they often make and has in fact perhaps been used as a major weapon in the form of propaganda to rally local support for the war against Serbia. Hence, as the following link suggests, perhaps the Media are also to blame for the war, and maybe the US media have supported war crimes. (Also, check out this link for a lot more articles on the role of media and propaganda during the Kosovo crisis.)

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  • by Anup Shah
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