June 9, 1996

TV Station in Bosnia Feeds Serbs Propaganda


PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Pale Television, broadcast from a small ocher-colored building on the rutted street that slices through the heart of this shabby former ski resort, recently began its evening broadcast with another world exclusive.

"NATO forces," the news announcer intoned, "used low-intensity nuclear weapons when they conducted air strikes on Serb positions around Sarajevo, Gorazde and Majevica last August and September."

The announcer said that experts from Serbia had examined ethnic Serbs living near the areas that were attacked by NATO warplanes, in strikes carried out to force the Bosnian Serbs to stop shelling Sarajevo and make peace, and "had concluded that some people showed signs of being contaminated by radiation."

The report, however incredulously received by those outside the self-styled Republic of Srpska and its "capital" in Pale, 10 miles east of Sarajevo, is typical of the steady diet of propaganda and questionable information that the Bosnian Serb-controlled station feeds its viewers.

And while outsiders might scoff, its reports exert a powerful influence over many Bosnian Serbs, who remain deeply distrustful of the outside world and fearful that their Muslim opponents are out to destroy them.

The Bosnian Muslims and Croats are also guilty of distorting events to suit their political agendas in their news reports, but the Serbs' fabrications are the most extravagant.

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the office of the high representative overseeing civilian implementation of the Bosnia peace accord are raising funds to set up an independent radio and television network in Sarajevo, to be named Open Broadcast News.

The station, which should be in place this summer in advance of national elections scheduled for September, will provide equal time for all political parties and candidates, as well as news coverage free of political coloring.

But for now the impact of Pale Television, the only Bosnian Serb station available throughout Bosnia, is immense.

"It keeps the political atmosphere fetid," said Michael Maclay, the chief spokesman for the high representative, Carl Bildt. "It prevents daylight and oxygen from getting through. In the last couple of weeks it has become worse, as Stalinist as any of the old Communist regimes."

Several themes are hammered home each night, but the most important one is the duty of Serbs to defend Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb political leader, and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the military commander, both of whom were indicted on war crimes charges by the U.N. tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands.

"By taking away our leaders they wish to control us," one recent commentator said."

In late May, Pale Television carried what it said were the last words of the Bosnian Serb Gen. Djordje Djukic, an indicted war criminal who was released by The Hague because he was suffering from terminal cancer. The television station reported that Djukic, who died in Belgrade last month, had been tortured while a prisoner in The Hague.

"As he struggled for life, he condemned Chief Justice Goldstone as a hater of Serbs, a murderer with a child's face," Pale Television said, referring to the war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Richard Goldstone. "And he beseeched the Serb people to protect Mr. Karadzic and Mr. Mladic."

When a U.N. spokesman, Alexander Ivanko, held a news conference in Pale recently and condemned the Bosnian Serb police for beating and torturing seven Muslim prisoners, the news report not only skipped over these details but, showing a silent frame of Ivanko, told its viewers that the U.N. official had declared that the captured Muslims were "terrorists."

Pale Television repeatedly shows footage of Muslims being rounded up in the Srebrenica enclave last summer, some 4,000 of whom are believed to have been killed by Bosnian Serb troops.

The Muslims are shown boarding buses and being treated well by Bosnian Serb soldiers. And most Bosnian Serbs cite the pictures as proof that the charges of genocide leveled against their soldiers are Bosnian Muslim propaganda.

The station also features a program called "Genocide," in which Serbs tell of abuse by Muslims, while the more melodramatic passages from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" play in the background.

As Bosnia prepares for elections, the station has begun broadcasting its own voter-awareness programs.

"The international community will try to intervene in the forthcoming elections," Borvivoje Sendic, the deputy chairman of Karadzic's Serb Democratic Party told viewers a couple of days ago. "But the Serbian people will not allow themselves to be cheated this time out of respect for all the victims who have fallen in the Republic of Srpska."