The Hague judgments and media wars

Author: Nidžara Ahmetašević

We have waited for a long time and have finally heard the conviction of Radovan Karadžić (40-year sentence) and Ratko Mladić (life sentence). A long time, too long for some, but the moment is finally here and they have been found guilty. This judgment is a sanction for atrocities designed in the minds of these two monsters, but also all those that participated with them in the ”joint criminal enterprise”, which are not just those whose names are stated in judgments, but also numerous other persons that participated in the planning of crimes, spreading of propaganda hatred, supported them and implemented their policies. A judgment should also be a message for the future, that crimes of that kind cannot and will not remain unpunished. Justice is attained, such as it is, sooner or later, but it is attained. We now have to find a way how to live with such a judgment and such justice. And we have to find a way how to talk about what we have experienced over the past 30 years, with the hope that we have learned a lesson or two. The culture of remembrance is a process that is built, and we should have started a long time ago. It is high time to do that.

Given media headlines in the region, we have learned little. Sensationalism has already prevailed over everything else, and the front pages of print media, portals and screens bomb us with reminders of hate and fear. Instead of looking for a way to implement everything that this judgment carries in itself, a large number of regional media only pointed out hatred and caused discomfort that is anyway always breathing down our neck.

While reading a judgment summary, a Hague judge mentioned several times Mladić’s manipulation of the media. We should have learned by now what disastrous effects media manipulation and hate propaganda have, but we somehow seem not to be able to learn how to resist them.

Headlines in many media about how Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina are allegedly celebrating Mladić as a hero are only one example. There are certainly such people. But such a level of generalisation is dangerous and fake. And it is very easy to demonstrate that it is a lie. Let us just look around ourselves. There are no mass outbursts of support for Mladić, there were none for Karadžić and there will be none. Individuals are repeating phrases they heard over the past 20 and more years about him, heroism and the war, like parrots, and it frequently seems that not even they themselves believe what they are saying. At the same time, only rare media have tried to find those persons that condemn his atrocities or do not see him and his followers as heroes. And there are many such persons.

Politicians are playing with the very same phrases, as usual, but the media, instead of handling such statements carefully, communicate them as unquestionable, and they are actually not engaging in journalism, but rather in propaganda.

The media in Bosnia and Herzegovina are sometimes, and this is one of the occasions where it becomes clearly visible, much closer to those in power than to citizens, the public, whose interest should be their guiding principle in their work. Reports that we can see sometimes seem to have been written by persons that have never gone to the street of any city or town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as if they have never met any inhabitant of this country, and even less so started some sort of conversation. It is up to us now to find a way to live after the judgments. The media that currently exist will not help us to create a society in which life might not be easy, but will at least be decent. Or we have to learn how to defend ourselves from the evil of the media sown during the war, which we continuously fail to eradicate.

Translation: Bjanka Pratelessi