AIM: start

SUN, 08 APR 2001 23:41:48 GMT

Dead Bodies from the Newspapers

The Macedonian crisis, which some have pretentiously called a war and which has been carefully reported by the local media, had at least several truths, truths which "have been way off base".

AIM, Skoplje, April 5, 2001

It's entirely journalists' fault! Until now this explanation often helped the Macedonian officials get out of a tight spot, irrespective of the fact that the poor representative of the "fourth estate" was telling the whole truth. But, who would believe him? After Tanusevac everything has changed. Many renowned newspapers all over the world, which wrote about the Macedonian crisis in the last 50 days have been blaming the curiosity of a TV crew of the most watched Skoplje TV station A-1 for all the misfortune suffered by this small country. Namely, on February 16, it went to the village of Tanusevac were uniformed men took away its equipment and, what shocked the public most, told the TV crew that the Macedonian police had not been in that area for over a month!!! The story goes on to say that the police started towards Tanusevac in order to refute the claims of the "naughty" TV crew and came into conflict with some armed men, and... The rest is common knowledge.

In order to prove their political correctness and constructivism, reporters of the media who earn their daily bread in state papers doubted and even sneered at the story of their colleague from the private TV station. They were the ones who broke ground in the field which was supposed to be the pride of Government's idea of objective information. It thus happened that the state television was "let into a closely-guarded secret" that security forces would launch a victorious campaign "already the following night"; this happened some four or five times. When the security forces finally reached Tanusevac, that victory lost all its charm.

Reporters of the state media outdid themselves: not wasting any time they went to the remote villages on the Albanian border to ask the Albanian population whether they were afraid of the security forces expecting in advance to get a negative answer. Such reporting carried a message: the security forces enjoy the full support of the Albanian villagers. With a bitter smile, some Albanian intellectuals noted: had the MTV reporters cared so zealously about the remote Albanian villages, Tanusevac would have never happened.

Similar thing happened in Tetovo, but only in a much more rigorous form. News on the state radio, which were swallowed each day with the first morning coffee, brought information on the persistent advance of the army and police and headlong flight of extremists, who had been holding the town under siege. Victory-hungry author of news used to get so carried away that he would forget the positions that were already "liberated" by the security forces so that the following morning he would start from the beginning: he would "liberate" what had already been "liberated". In this manner, wholeheartedly accepted by dailies under the Government's umbrella (and not only by them), the "terrorists" (which was unofficial-official name for armed groups with which security forces came into conflict) constantly suffered new casualties so that some inspired reporters from the field "even felt the sharp stink of dead bodies"!!!???

Incidentally, the name of those against whom the security forces fought evolved from extremists and para-military units to terrorists, which became a generally accepted term of the official spokesmen who held one or two press conferences a day. In other words, the term "armed extremist groups" which as a sign of compromise the Parliament of Macedonia adopted in its Declaration, did not come into official use. The term "terrorists" is (presumably) much easier to remember and sounds better.

The state media took great care not to publish any of the informal statements unsparingly issued to the foreign press by officials of the parties of Albanians, especially of the coalition Democratic Party of Albanians. Moreover, the Macedonian TV even tried to bring the DPA leader Arben Xhaferi to its studio so that he could explain that the foreigners have misunderstood him. In this way a system was gradually developed according to which Xhaferi gave one type of statements abroad and different ones at home (mutually quite contradictory).

Once again it was possible to see in practice that the officials do not respect either the public or the press. More than once shivering reporters spent the whole night in front of the Parliament's building in which important decisions were being adopted to be in the end honoured by some confused release or rebuffed by sulking conspirative participants of some conference of "dedicated officials". Irritated by this media nervousness over such "secretiveness", Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski once swooped down on "media-scavengers who question the determination of the state top leadership". He was forgiven everything, perhaps too soon!

Private media demonstrated a true hunger for information. Consequently they showed greater professionalism. They tried to obtain information "straight from the horse's mouth" mostly using private channels in order to "dig up" something. Their associates visited the Internet sites all over the globe with dedication thus obtaining relevant contents that would enable citizens to get more or less full picture of what was going on in the country. True, in contrast to the state media, which refrained from any comments, the private ones sometimes let off the steam by accusing for everything bad that had happened: the Government, Albanian parties or, very rarely the entire Albanian nation, their own intelligence services, etc.

Macedonia, just like many other countries which used to be hotbeds of crisis, did not resist the temptation of displeasing the powerful world media sharks. It so happened that the BBC came under fire. The state radio suddenly decided to stop broadcasting the BBC programme in the Macedonian language ("because it needed the time for other programmes"!) and the pro-Government paper "Vecer" (Evening) pilloried its editors and directors by publishing that they were on the "KLA's payroll". As a Government's body the Radio-Broadcasting Council strongly recommended radio stations to let the BBC alone. In all fairness, some media moguls did approach the Macedonian case with too much passion, but the officials forgot that this was the 21st century, a time of communications without frontiers and that the Internet is accessible to the potential BBC listeners.

For all the media in the Macedonian language, without exception, the putting out of the Macedonian flag on Kale marked the day of triumph over the extremists, as well as over the armed realisation of the idea of "Greater Albania". When tempers cooled down, questions began popping up: where for God's sake were all those bodies of "killed extremists"? How did it happen that a whole arsenal of weaponry was brought to Kale? Where did the extremist vanish? The answers have yet to be given.

This crisis, which some call a "virtual" crisis and the opposition leader Crvenkovski a "feigned" war, also has its stars and heroes. The media recognised as such the State Undersecretary in the Internal Affairs Ministry, Ljuben Boskovski, who gladly posed for the state TV cameras with war scenery in the background and even boasted of "having spent 12 sleepless nights" (thus having a serious chance of getting into "The Guinness book of Records") during Tetovo operation. Addressing him in a familiar manner, as it is common among party comrades, the opposition doubting Thomases wondered: "Why did this happen to us brother Ljube"? "Brother Ljube" is silent. Maybe he will score another record in that too.

AIM Skoplje