News 25 Nov 14

Serbian Media ‘Ethnically Biased’ on War Crimes

Serbian media still show significant ethnic bias when reporting on war crimes trials in domestic courts, portraying Serbs as the victims and promoting nationalist ideas.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian newspapers. Photo: Beta.

Over the past decade, media reports on war crime trials have taken an ‘us and them’ approach to justice, and television and print coverage is based on the ethnicity of the accused, said the new report by Belgrade’s Humanitarian Law Centre, which was launched this month.

Katarina Ristic, the author of the report entitled ‘Media Discourses on War Crime Trials in Serbia, 2003-2013’, said that media in Serbia didn’t give people the facts about the 1990s wars, but instead created “total confusion about what happened in the past”.

“Denial continued, there is no catharsis, while nationalist discourse from the 1990s is revived and while there is simply no justice for the victims,” Ristic said.

“The public still believes that Serbs are the victims,” she added.

The report analysed coverage in five daily newspapers - Blic, Vecernje Novosti, Politika, Kurir and Danas - and TV shows broadcast on independent station B92 and public broadcaster RTS.

It focused on two cases related to war crimes in Bosnia, one case in Croatia and three cases related to the Kosovo war, including organ trafficking allegations against the Kosovo Liberation Army and the case against Serbian army chief Ljubisa Dikovic.

According to Ristic, media report completely differently when the victims or the perpetrators are Serbs.

She compared the coverage of the Suva Reka case, about the mass murder of Kosovo Albanian civilians by Serbian police, and the organ trafficking allegations against the KLA.

“In one year alone, we had more than 200 media reports on the organ trafficking allegations, while for the Suva Reka case overall, we had 225 reports in total published on this topic in Serbia,” Ristic said.

“In relation to the organ trafficking case, we often have statements from the prime minister, president, and the entire public is talking about it, while with Suva Reka we don’t have even one statement from some official,” she explained.

According to Ristic, only the newspaper Danas had any reports about victims from Suva Reka.

When it comes to the language used by Serbian media, Ristic says that this also varies depending on the ethnicity of the victims and perpetrators.

According to the report, when the victims are Serbs, headlines speak of “justice for victims”, “monstrous crimes” and “uncivilised atrocities”, while crimes against others by Serbs are described as “shootings at civilians”.

“Instead of offering transitional justice, war crimes trials are used in the media to rebuild nationalism and the narrative of Serbs as victims,” Ristic said.

The Humanitarian Law Centre also said that war crimes trials were rarely given high-profile coverage on front pages or news bulletins.

“The war crimes trials are marginalised and no one is interested in the topic, and there is no discussion about responsibility,” Ristic said.

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