Geert Lovink on Fri, 29 Jan 1999 13:07:01 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> media responsibility/independence and national conflicts

From: Veran Matic <>

The Future Architecture of Europe
Joint LDR, EDG, EPP/CD seminar, Baden-Baden, Germany
Saturday, January 23 1999

Part three: The enlargement of European structures: problems and
prospectsChaired by the Chairman of LDR, Lord Russell Johnston

By Veran Matic
Chairman of the Association of Indepednent Electronic Media

External context

1. The rapid development of telecommunications and media technologies has
changed the very nature of the media.  In both space and time they are
becoming an integral part of events taking place.  Live coverage itself
has been transformed into a new event.  Examples of this are the landing
of US marines in Somalia and Haiti and the assault on the Beli dom and the
Ostankino television station in Moscow. 

2. Politicians have a powerful and crucial influence on the media in
non-democratic regimes and unconsolidated democracies.  In democratic
societies politicians endeavour to influence the media as much as possible
by spin-doctoring.  On the other hand the media themselves are able to
exert an increasingly decisive influence on the behaviour and decisions of
politicians.  My argument is that the media have no power of their own,
but that their influence stems from modern methods of implementing
specific policies: above all through the media, to a lesser extent in the
parliament and in other arenas for political activities. 

3. Commercialisation suppresses the diversity of programming, as well as
programs related to minorities, alternative culture, and subcultures.  The
pursuit of higher audience ratings is reflected in news and current
affairs reporting.  News presentation, that selection of excerpts from
reality presented by media to their audience is now characterised by the
trivial, the bizarre and the scandalous.  As a consequence of this hard
news now occupies less space in the media.  There is less willingness to
cover the expenses of public service broadcasters which are now being
forced into commercialisation.  In the process, the public has the most to
lose - it loses its sources of information. 

The Internal Context of Pseudo-Democracy

Every single word has a life of its own in Yugoslavia:- responsibility is
non-existent: there is an absolute monopoly of a single family;

- inequality of the media: state-run media and pro-government media have
much greater technical and financial capacity; independent media are
subject to a repressive law and unequal treatment in the exercise of their
basic rights; 

- national conflicts have been a regular occurrence for most of the past
decade, the authorities simply resolving one national conflict by
generating another; 

- guarantees of any sort are virtually impossible as there is no legality
and everything is reduced to autocracy and the wilfulness of the narrow
circle of people in power; 

- the independent media have no choice but to cling to survival without
the possibility of developing and establishing serious and strong
alternatives to the state-controlled media'

- democracy and democratisation: these terms have been completely
discredited by constant media manipulation and the false promotion of
anti-democratic values as democratic. 

- the regime uses the media as an army whose task is to thoroughly prepare
the ground and then instigate and brutalise national conflicts; 

- the isolation brought about by sanctions doubles their effect on the
independent media: the flow of information decreases. 

Common elements of the internal and external context

Because of the limitations imposed by commercialisation (Infotainment),
worldwide information networks report superficially by creating
stereotypes without seeking insights into conflict. 

I believe that the public has no autonomy; public opinion on conflicts in
remote countries is shaped largely according to the suggestions of
political and other elites.  Such opinion in turn influences politicians
and governments to behave similarly, thus exacerbating the conflict or
contributing to the emergence of new conflicts for which the most powerful
partner is responsible, regardless of whether he is a tyrant or a criminal
or takes a pro-democracy stance. 

Commercialisation is a function of the regime's self-promotion and
anti-cultural trends towards light entertainment and kitsch.  Through a
monopoly these impose themselves as the dominant cultural and social form. 

Foreign commercial programs are most easily available to state-run media,
as the state has substantial financial resources at its disposal. 
Consequently these programs are available to those who use the context of
these shows to promote vilification, violence and intolerance. 

Telecommunications are also firmly controlled by the repressive
authorities.  International telecommunications corporations cooperate with
the regime through joint ventures.  This represents direct assistance to
the undemocratic regime (as seen in the purchase of 49 per cent of the
state telecommunications company by Greek and Italian corporations
immediately before the election, when the regime most needed money).  This
leads to restrictions in licensing resources to independent media, NGOs
and so on. 

The distribution of frequency licences is basically politically
manipulated, which is tolerated despite international standards and
regulations dealing with this issue. 

Access to satellite distribution is also limited. 

The Internet is frequently censored and the infrastructure which would
allow a more serious commercial approach to the offering of Internet
services is inaccessible. 

Consequences of these processes: 

The core program content of state-run and pro-government media is the
promotion and endorsement of the interests of the oligarchy.  This, of
course, has nothing to do with the communal role of public media. 

In contrast to the public state-run media, the independent professional
media design their program content by taking the public interest into

The example of Radio B92

B92 will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year - as will the
authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic.  The basic concept of B92 was
formulated through an analysis of past experience and in consideration of
the needs of a society which is yet to enter the process of
democratisation.  Thus B92's programming is based on the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights: simultaneously various freedoms and rights
were exercised and there has been a constant struggle to ensure that these
principles are observed and honoured.  Because of this a number of similar
projects have been initiated both in the media sphere and in the
non-governmental sector.  Avoiding the creation of its own monopolistic
position, B92 has encouraged the development of local media and
established a radio and television network presently consisting of 33
radio and 17 television stations.  The use of modern technologies,
primarily the Internet, has enabled us to bypass government censorship and
bans (as in the case of B92 in 1996).  Under the circumstances B92 was
unable to function properly by operating only as a broadcaster.  Thus
various departments have been developed, radio programming, video
production, music production and a cultural centre.  B92 also established
the first ISP (Internet Service Provider) in Yugoslavia, preventing a
state monopoly and providing Internet access for the independent media and
NGOs.  Thus it is necessary to produce authentic programming and then to
establish the infrastructure through the media highway (see the tables

In order to ensure the success of this concept, it is necessary to
implement the following projects. 

1 The establishment of the media network within the country through
professional and technical cooperation, solidarity and self-defence
activity (the struggle for general principles). 

2 The creation of a coalition of donors to systematically draw up
independent media development projects and plans for the long term, and to
monitor and support their development. 

3 The creation of coalitions of international NGOs engaged in protecting
the freedom of expression.  (B92 has established an international
committee - Free 2000 - which is active in international defence
campaigns, exerting pressure on governments and international

4 The establishment of a coalition of international organisations (the
conference held in December 1998 under the auspices of the Secretary
General of the Council of Europe and was decided to remain in continuous

Media and Conflict Resolution

The media do not generate political, national or other conflicts: they are
able to intensify them or to attempt to contribute to their resolution,
but journalists themselves have no decisive impact on either the
deterioration or amelioration of such situations. 

Radio B92, in addition to its professional practice, is also engaged in
working on the theoretical foundations of this issue.  In collaboration
with the European Institute for the Media, B92 has published a study,
Writing Death - The Media in Times of Conflict (Pisanje smrti - mediji u
vremenima sukoba) by Dusan Reljic. 

The experiences of B92 which have been confirmed by corresponding
theoretical works include: 

"The first lesson in an international media intervention in the
conflict-plagued regions says: support must be provided from the beginning
and in continuance.  Dangerous tendencies like the "hate speech" and the
authorities' interference in the activities of the independent print media
must be taken as ominous signs of impending conflict" . There are no
simple formulae which could be applied to determine the potential of the
media to actively engage in conflict resolution and the democratisation
process.  This must consist of a combination of activities: 

- the above support should be provided from the very beginning, and
continuously (not intermittently and too late - the European Union needed
almost two years to act, which sometimes render the assistance itself

- support for the independent media cannot properly be implemented without
broader assistance to civil sector development and to democratic
institutions. (So that, for instance, the European Union cannot conduct a
program of supporting independent media while at the same time excluding
Yugoslavia from the PHARE program for the development of democracy); 

- freedom of information must be a constituent part of every foreign
affairs activity and cannot be relegated to the position of a minor issue; 

- continuous and intensive training and development courses for editors,
managers, journalists and technicians are of vital importance:
professional training, conflict resolution programs, reporting on
minorities, effective advertising activities…

- multiple education programs must be coordinated so that time and energy
are no wasted through the redundant repetition of activities (ANEM has
established strong coordination among various media initiatives in the
field and preparations are under way to establish the European Media
School with the assistance of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio

- the development of local media guarantees the affirmation of distinctive
regional features; 

- support for new technologies - the Internet and satellite systems - is
extremely important in the establishment of networks of local and regional
activities; the Internet and satellite have removed boundaries and
rendered censorship obsolete and ineffective, which is why they should be
at the disposal of the independent media, enabling them to compete with
state-controlled media and overcome government censorship; 

- external media intervention through programs produced by VOA, BBC,
RFE/RL, RFI and Deutsche Welle in various languages cannot be sufficiently
effective as listeners always seek to detect the political interest of the
country in which the broadcaster is based, however by collaborating in the
development of the local media which would rebroadcast these programs it
becomes possible to increase the flow of information and to develop a
local infrastructure; 

- the technical capacities of these international broadcasters must be at
the disposal of local media to assist them in resisting government
censorship (as in the cooperation of B92 and VOA in 1996) or a network
should be established (as in the collaboration of B92 and BBC which
assisted in the establishment of a network of 33 radio stations in

- other technical capacities must be identified for use in the process of
conflict resolution (ANEM is currently negotiating with EbS for the use of
their satellite channels to broadcast programming intended for Kosovo
where at present there are no independent electronic media) - thus a
system of "humanitarian frequencies" for assistance in conflict resolution
and the development of independent media could be managed by organisations
such as the OSCE; 

- apart from financial aid, the economic effectiveness of independent
media structures must also be enhanced in undemocratic countries which are
plagued by national conflicts - this may be achieved by granting loans
(which is already being done by the Media Development Loan Fund in New
York); thus the economic independence of media organisations could be
gradually achieved, integrating these in a natural way into the
international economic system and rules of conduct; 

- it is necessary to constantly monitor the operations of the media as a
thorough analysis of reporting may provide serious warnings of impending
conflict, at the same time professional guidance should be provided for
the successful development of local independent media; 

- it is also necessary to implement projects for raising awareness among
all political bodies of the importance of journalism in the political
process of democratisation (often the opposition does not understand the
concept of independent media, seeing them instead as opposition media); 

- encouragement for interlinking and networking media initiatives with
progressive initiatives by civil movements, the non-governmental sector,
educational institutions, minority organisations and so on, thus advancing
and affirming universal principles. 

The combination of all these activities, adjusted to a situation burdened
with conflicts, may also correspond to the suggestion of Jamie Metzl in
Foreign Affairs for the creation of "information and intervention units" 
which would engage in monitoring the information available in war-plagued
regions, broadcasting pacifist programs and, "in extreme cases", jamming
other broadcasts in order to suppress the hate propaganda and conflict
provocation.  Some of these initiatives have already been examined and
implemented during the first ten years of Radio B92 and the Association of
Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) - which is now being held up as a
possible model for other conflict-plagued regions. 

Only those initiatives which have taken root and become an integral part
of the social fabric of area in conflict stand a chance of yielding
satisfactory results: initiatives from outside would surely fail as they
can never do more than mimic local cultural patterns, this mimicry is
obvious to the local community and the information it carries is
disregarded.  The only thing the international community should do is to
closely cooperate with those individuals and organisations which are
implementing local political, cultural and media initiatives in order to
help the civil structures in the society to win power. 

-- Veran Matic, Editor in Chief tel: +381-11-322-9109 Radio B92, Belgrade,
Yugoslavia fax: +381-11-322-4378

          Radio B92 Official Web Site ---
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