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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK

Analysis: Monitoring the media war

By BBC Monitoring's Morand Fachot

Kosovo: Special Report
With Nato air strikes on Yugoslavia continuing and no end in sight to the Kosovo crisis, the propaganda war, aimed at weakening the enemy's resolve and whipping up support has reached a new intensity on both sides.

It is being fought mainly on radio and TV, as in other recent conflicts, and also, for the first time, on the Internet too.

Belgrade's war of words

The first signs of the tightening of control over the Yugoslav media came only a few hours before Nato's air strikes, with the closure of the independent Belgrade radio station B92 on 24th March.

[ image: A graphic on Belgrade TV mocks Nato strikes with a deliberate echo of Auschwitz]
A graphic on Belgrade TV mocks Nato strikes with a deliberate echo of Auschwitz
The station has since resumed its broadcasts, but as a government-controlled outlet.

The first Nato strikes were soon followed by Belgrade's decision to expel some 40 journalists from the countries most involved in the intervention: the USA, UK, France and Germany.

This move was revoked, presumably when it was realised that their reports might help boost public feeling abroad against Nato's war effort, particularly in the event of high civilian casualties.

According to the Yugoslav military authorities, some 470 foreign journalists and 145 Yugoslav journalists are now accredited to the Yugoslav armed forces press centre and cover the war for foreign media outlets.

However, some 20 other foreign journalists, including Russian TV crews, have also been expelled so far.

[ image:  ]
Belgrade's own propaganda effort has reached a new intensity with Yugoslav media comparing Nato air strikes to Nazi raids on Belgrade in 1941, and Nato leaders to Nazi officials.

Yugoslav TV and radio place emphasis on the damage to the country's infrastructure, the suffering of civilians - including horrific pictures of civilian casualties - and negative foreign reactions to Nato's intervention.

Belgrade television shows special programmes on the armed forces and archive films of the fighting in the second world war.

Belgrade will have counted as significant propaganda successes the film of wreckage of a downed US Air Force jet and three captured US soldiers, and Nato's admission that it attacked a refugee convoy.

[ image:  ]
Yugoslav TV also seeks to boost patriotic feelings with pictures of Serbian monasteries and icons, views of landscapes and rural life, stressing Serb historical and cultural values.

Broadcasts of the daily Belgrade rock concert aims to boost morale, as does footage of civilian "human shields" protecting bridges against Nato attacks, mass weddings, and the showing of the Belgrade marathon.

Footage of hundreds of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians crossing in neighbouring countries, however, are not part of the picture on Yugoslav TV.

[ image: Images of refugees have not been shown on Serb TV]
Images of refugees have not been shown on Serb TV
Belgrade's attempts at controlling the media in Yugoslavia are also a factor in its deteriorating relations with Montenegro. The Yugoslav army in Montenegro is trying to prevent the rebroadcast of Western television programmes and to impose Belgrade's control on Montenegrin TV.

It also wants the 350 or so foreign journalists currently in Montenegro to get accreditation in Belgrade.

Yugoslav means of influencing public opinion abroad are more limited and indirect, being mainly confined to the rebroadcast abroad of Yugoslav TV pictures of destroyed buildings and distraught Serb civilians, and to some shortwave broadcasts in the main European languages, as well as in Greek, Hungarian and Arabic.

The Internet is a new factor in this war with Radio Yugoslavia reporting more than two million hits on its web site on 27th March alone.

[ image:  ]
A number of new Yugoslav or pro-Yugoslav web sites has also emerged. War has apparently reached cyberspace too with Yugoslav satellite television RTS Sat reporting an alleged "criminal act by the CIA to forge a Republic of Serbia site on Internet," a move thwarted by "a timely intervention by the Serbian Information Ministry and Serbian Radio-TV".

In the early days of the war hacking attempts against sites linked to the NATO forces were also reported.

Nato news management

For its part Nato is conducting a very sophisticated media offensive aimed at maintaining public support for its policy.

News management is now a major tool in the alliance's panoply in its war against the Yugoslav regime.

[ image:  ]
Successful news management in a war, even at a national level, is a complex business and can become a double-edged sword when it has to accommodate the often conflicting demands of political aims and military imperatives.

For Nato, an alliance of 19 sovereign nations, the process is even more difficult than for a single state as the degree of political and public support differs greatly from one country to another.

It requires delicacy in timing and phrasing, as the vocabulary illustrates: "Enemy military assets are being degraded by surgical strikes, keeping collateral damage to a minimum".

Even then the unpredictability of war can upset the delicate balance of Nato's news management as when dozens of ethnic Albanian refugees where killed on 14th April in a Nato operation which went wrong.

Nato has targeted Yugoslav radio and TV transmitters in a move initially announced as aimed at depriving Belgrade of its propaganda tool, and later presented as part of a broader strategy targeting installations with a dual military-civilian use.

[ image: Leaflet drop: The Commando Solo]
Leaflet drop: The Commando Solo
As a result, a number of towns can no longer receive Yugoslav radio and television signals. Meanwhile, Nato started beaming TV broadcasts at Yugoslav viewers via a US Air Force "Commando Solo" psyop aircraft, a converted Hercules military transport aeroplane capable of jamming broadcasts and of transmitting radio and television signals.

Commando Solo aircraft were previously used in military operations in Grenada, Panama, Haiti and during the Gulf War.

Better Nato radio coverage of parts of Yugoslavia will also be ensured by the installation of radio transmitters in neighbouring countries.

Nato also dropped more than 13 millions leaflets over Yugoslavia in recent weeks.

International broadcasters

As in previous conflicts elsewhere the main western international broadcasters, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, RFI and VOA, have increased their output to the region. VOA has launched a joint round-the-clock programme with Radio Free Europe.

The programme in Serbian, Bosnian, Croat and English already on air on FM, is to be strengthened by the addition of five extra transmitters placed along the Serbian border.

For its part, the Voice of Russia launched a special Kosovo shortwave service, and a Kosovo link on its web site in English carrying a personal appeal to Nato soldiers reminding them that their "bombs and missiles turn Easter into a nightmare for men, women and children of Yugoslavia."

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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