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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 March, 2004, 14:00 GMT
Kosovo triggers media war
Serbian TV newsreader, with backdrop reading: Kosovo, terror, world
Serbian state TV responded to a government call to broadcasters

Serbia's broadcast and print media have not only ramped up coverage of violence in Kosovo but are openly making their own mark on the conflict.

"All Belgrade TV stations responded to the Serbian government's call and interrupted their broadcasting in sign of protest over the events in Kosovo," BETA news agency declared to coincide with Friday's mass rally in Belgrade.

Just before its regular midday newscast, Serbia's RTS state television flashed up the statement "Stop the terror against Serbs, three minutes of warning to the world!" on a black background.

And Tanjug news agency said it was advising subscribers that from midday local the agency's national service would join electronic media which will interrupt their broadcasting at the invitation of the Serbian government to voice their protest over the pogrom of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija."

Serb press coverage

All of Serbia's papers have devoted dozens of pages each day to covering the anguish of Kosovo Serbs driven out of their homes, and Serbia's reaction.

"Serbs spend the night dreading the sunset and a new destructive surge by Albanian extremists," Politika, a leading pro-government newspaper, wrote on Friday.

This is a wild rampage, sheer nationalism and irredentism

On its front page Borba newspaper cited a senior Serbian official, Nebojsa Covic, as saying: "I fear that Kristallnacht is happening" - a reference to Nazi actions in 1938 when thousands of Jewish targets were attacked and dozens killed.

Several papers agreed the violence proved the failure of a security system set up by international community.

It was "simply unbelievable that Unmik and K-For were unable to get the situation under control"; there was a "total collapse of UN security systems", Borba said.

While for tabloid Vecernje Novosti the violence was an "Albanian Jihad", one Politika writer said "events in Kosovo have nothing to do with Islam. This is a wild rampage, sheer nationalism and irredentism."

Other Serb papers, including Dnevnik and Politika, condemned arson attacks on mosques in Belgrade and Nis after the destruction of Christian Orthodox churches.

Foreign media accused

Some papers turned their guns on international media reporting, particularly over an incident on Tuesday when three Albanian boys drowned in a river outside the flashpoint town of Mitrovica. A 13 year old boy claimed he was with them at the time and that they were being chased by local Serbs

One Politika columnist accused CNN of being the first to report "untruths about the four Albanian boys", whose fate was seen as a trigger by some media.

In response to what it said were remarks by CNN that "there was not enough time for an investigation", Politika asked "were two days really not enough to question the surviving boy?"

Another analyst writing in the paper said "this was done by design, as CNN was in charge of giving media 'treatment' to the action, according to a familiar scenario."

The Albanian media "did their job well, too, raising tensions to the maximum, accusing the Serbs of allegedly chasing the Albanian boys and letting dogs after them," Politika's analyst said.

The tabloid Blic also poured scorn on foreign reporting of events.

Both the BBC and CNN fed their viewers the "story about bloodthirsty Serbs and their dogs" despite receiving from Blic an Unmik statement that the Albanian boys' deaths were an accident, and pledging to correct their reporting.

Kosovar criticism

Kosovo Albanian television, KohaVision TV, aired strenuous appeals by province leaders to Kosovo Albanians to stop attacking Serbs, their churches and the security forces.

There was no real state or political authority to stop the violence
Koha Ditore

"We reiterate that attacks against the international presence... are completely unacceptable... The destruction of religious and cultural sites, property and homes, is unacceptable for the Kosova people and we condemn it," the TV cited Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova and Premier Bajram Rexhepi as saying.

But in the Albanian-language press, prominent activist Veton Surroi said events showed "there was no real state or political authority that could stop the violence."

Writing in Koha Ditore, he blamed the Kosovar political establishment and international administration for failing to understand the region's problems.

The weekly Java identified frustration built up for years as a result of "Unmik's inefficiency and bureaucracy" coupled with "frustration at the unfinished peace and terrible ambivalence."

Pristina's Epoka e Re, a daily aimed at students, said the violence "should make us all feel guilty, but this will definitely hurt the conscience of our politicians." It accused the Kosovar leadership of "deceiving" the people since the 1999 war.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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