TV propaganda distorts view of Serb populace toward foes
15 June 1992.
By Mary Beth Sheridan
NIS, Yugoslavia — Factory worker Miroslav Ivanovic has a ready explanation for why Serb forces have been battling so fiercely in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“The enemy cuts throats. They massacre little children,” the 35-year-old worker said earnestly. “They cut out Serbs’ hearts and kidneys then sell them in Germany,” added his colleague, Zoran Pavlovic.
Asked where they had heard such outrageous reports, the men responded: “Television.”
If much of the world blames Serbia for Europe’s worst fighting since World War II, people in the Serbian heartland do not.
A major reason is the highly biased state television, which has inflamed Serbians’ nationalist feelings and misled them about the war raging in former Yugoslavia.
Outside Belgrade, few areas of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav state have access to independent television news. That leaves state television, which offers a steady diet of Croatian “fascists” and Muslim [Bosniak] “extremists” who destroy Serbian Orthodox churches, and American plots to destroy Serbia.
Its part of the media war fought by all sides to the conflict. Croat television also tells its version of the truth, as does Bosnian TV.
“The TV is right,” said a gray-haired 60-year-old woman in Nis’ main park, who refused to give her name.
“They actually showed a Muslim admitting he cut throats. He went like this,” she added, drawing a finger across her throat.
Diplomats say Serbia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, has used television masterfully to keep a loyal following in the Serbian provinces, even as an opposition movement ha grown in Belgrade.
Milosevic’s propaganda has enabled him to blunt the effects of U.N. sanctions, aimed at forcing him to help stop the fighting in Bosnia.
Thanks in part to state television, some Serbs appear to have identified even more with Milosevic. They parrot the line that the sanctions are aimed at getting rid of the Serbian people, not just their leader.
The few opposition supporters in Nis say years of communist rule have conditioned many people to simply follow what they’re told.
Some Serbs fear the gulf between Milosevic supporters in the country-side and opposition groups in Belgrade may eventually plunge Serbia itself into civil war.
“Brother is going to kill brother,” said Zoran Petkovic, an unemployed 32-year-old sitting in a TV repair shot. “Because people are very mixed up.”