The Guardian October 11, 2000


Truth: still the first casualty

Where was it reported that the European Union last month lifted duties 
on goods coming from the Balkans  except for Serbia  in an attempt to 
influence the Yugoslav elections? It certainly wasn't considered newsworthy 
by the mass media in Australia.

Brian Denny, of the British socialist paper Morning Star, reported 
that EU foreign ministers agreed that the EU would lift duties on 95 per 
cent of industrial and agricultural products from Croatia, Bosnia, Albania 
and Macedonia.

NATO-occupied Kosovo also was to enjoy freer trade, while Montenegro, its 
pro-Western partner in the Yugoslav Federation, could send aluminium to the 
EU duty free.

Britain sent 600 more troops to Kosovo and US warships took up positions in 
the Adriatic.

The fascist KLA forces, supposedly disbanded by NATO, said they would be 
increasing their activities during the election. Where was all this 
highlighted in news reports on developments in Yugoslavia?

The foreign ministers had already promised a radical EU policy shift if 
Serbia's Western-backed opposition won in the polls. That they did not win 
made not one bit of difference to the US and their EU backers. Nor did it 
effect the way the election was reported.

Why weren't we told about the EU's so-called Asphalt for Democracy scheme, 
which involved the delivery of bitumen to ten Serbian Western-backed 
opposition-run towns to help local road repairs?

Morning Star's PAUL DONOVAN looked at how the media manipulated, and 
continues to manipulate, its reporting on Western intervention in Kosovo.

As in the case of Iraq some ten years earlier, a heavy bombing campaign 
pounded Yugoslavia and was followed up with devastating sanctions.

The major difference between the war in Yugoslavia and the preceding Gulf 
conflict is the ease with which the whole venture was sold to the public. 
Again in the case of Iraq most people quickly realised that the war was not 
about the human rights of the people of Kuwait but the oil interests of the 
West.

But how many are now aware that the war in Yugoslavia was about US and 
European strategic economic interests in the region?

Who is aware that in Kosovo the US has built its largest military base 
since the Vietnam war just to the north of a proposed oil pipeline partly 
funded by the US Government?

And how many British taxpayers are aware of the open-ended military 
commitment that the Blair Government has entered into in the region, which 
means that tours of duty in the north of Ireland are now to be replaced by 
annual tours of duty in the Balkans?

I would hazard to suggest that most people still believe the rhetoric of 
the time that the intervention was humanitarian to stop Serbs slaughtering 
Albanians in Kosovo.

The careful manipulations of the media laid the ground for this 
intervention and the ease with which it was achieved means that the next 
adventure will probably prove even easier to sell.

Over the years author and journalist Phillip Knightley has charted the way 
in which truth becomes the first casualty of war.

Knightley wrote The First Casualty: the war correspondent from the 
Crimea to Kosovo, which chronicles the manipulations by governments and 
the military of the media in times of war.

First, there is the presentation of the war in stark terms of good and evil 
with one side being demonised, its leader depicted as mad, bloodthirsty and 
sub-human  in other words a modern-day Hitler.

"The good side will be presented as the saviour of civilisation, 
humanitarian, caring, compassionate, forced to act because of the barbarity 
of the other side.

"To this end  ignoring the fact that there are atrocities by all sides in 
all wars  old atrocity stories will be dusted off and recycled", says 
Knightley.

This blueprint was steadfastly adhered to in both the Gulf and Kosovo 
conflicts. Knightley points to the manuals on managing the news during 
wartime  such as those the US and Britain compiled after the Vietnam war 
 which are updated after each new conflict.

"It follows basic principles", says Knightley of the manuals. "Appear open, 
transparent and eager to help; never go in for summary repression or direct 
control, nullify rather than conceal undesirable news.

"Control emphasis rather than facts; balance bad news with good and lie 
directly only when certain that the lie will not be found out during the 
course of the war."

Britain and the US introduced the manuals when the military became 
convinced that the way in which the war on Vietnam was reported sapped the 
will of the US public to continue to support the campaign and led directly 
to defeat.

The manual had its first test in the Falklands, was polished in the Gulf 
and was perfected in Kosovo, according to Knightley.

Around 2,700 media people accompanied NATO forces when they entered Kosovo 
at the end of the bombing campaign. The war was the most comprehensively 
covered in terms of information provided via briefings and advanced 
technology, but in terms of providing actual understanding of the issues 
involved, all were controlled.

In the case of British journalists, one cannot help but wonder whether the 
conditioned approach which most adopted to the war did not owe something to 
experiences of reporting the events in the north of Ireland over the last 
30 years.

The blanket acceptance of the government propaganda model that British 
troops were only in Ireland keeping the peace between two feuding tribes 
was set out in 1969 and never seriously questioned thereafter by the 
mainstream media.

Knightley believes that the Kosovo conflict marked a victory for the 
military in a 150 year battle with war correspondents over how war should 
be reported.

"The military had won the battle for their view of war which is to tell the 
public nothing until until the war is over, then tell them who won."

The Kosovo conflict no doubt marked a high point in complicity of media to 
government manipulations. Dissident voices were largely frozen out of the 
coverage with a quite deliberate policy pursued of not reporting opposition 
to the war.

Stories have emerged of lots of angry anti-war letters to the editor being 
being binned.

Knightley questions whether war correspondents actually have a role to play 
and suggests that a skeptical view must be adopted to all reportage at 
times of war.

While he is probably correct, the more worrying legacy that has been thrown 
up from Kosovo is: how is it going to be possible in the future to stop 
another lurch into conflict at the behest of the strategic interests of 
powerful nations.

The complete failure to report the situation in Kosovo before, during and 
since the bombing is likely to have implications that stretch far beyond 
the region.

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