Operation Storm: Some Media Still in the 90’s

Published: 28 August 2015

Country: Serbia

Media_Coverage_of_Operation_StormTwenty years after the war in former Yugoslavia, officials and media in Croatia and Serbia had marked the anniversary of Operation Storm in a very different way.  Some in Croatia were celebrating the Victory Day on the 5th of August. On the other side, some media and officials in Serbia were remembering victims and almost 200,000 Serbs who fled Croatia. Covering the Anniversary of Operation Storm, many media outlets resembled what they were back in 90’s when they were fostering hatred, spreading propaganda and inflaming conflict in Yugoslavia.

Media coverage in Serbia was thoroughly analysed by Tamara Skrozza, a prominent journalist and media ethics expert. In her report for Cenzolovka website, Skrozza noted that most of the content she analysed was biased. Also, none of the Serbian media who were analysed did not raise a question of responsibility that some of the leading political figures in Serbia today might have had during the events in August 20 years ago.

Front pages of almost all national daily newspapers on 5th of August were in black and white mourning and devoting the content to Serbs who fled and who lost everything due to military action. Operation Storm was one of the military actions in which Croatian army restored vast territories, including those populated mainly by Serbs. As a consequence, Croatian Serbs have left their homes becoming refugees overnight.

Operation_StormNone out of eight Serbian daily newspapers dared to question Serbian responsibility in the clashes or to at least, put their coverage in the context and to report in more fair and professional manner. No newspaper reminded Serbian public of the roles that current Prime Minster Aleksandar Vucic and some ministers played in the war in former Yugoslavia, or of their public statements and rhetoric heavily used during the conflict in the 90s. Some Serbian media went so far to conclude that “Croatian army would not stand a chance in case of a war with Serbia today”, 20 years after the Yugoslav conflict ended.

Skrozza thinks that some media were more balanced hiding their messages behind agency news and international media. However tabloid media showed no remorse when it came to reminding the Serbian public of the events in August 1995, as well as labelling as ‘traitors’ some Serbian public figures who went on vacation to Croatia, or a celebrity who was dating a Croatian pop singer.

“Alo, a Serbian tabloid, was the only one that reminded the public of a shameful role some media played in the war 1992-1995. This tabloid also emphasised that Serbia and Serbian people helped refugees coming from Croatia,” says Tamara Skrozza.

The day after, on 6th of August, the media are back in full colour, but still very much reporting on the same topic and similar manner. The day was, as Skrozza noticed, in the sign of the word “orgies”. Using this term, some of the media outlets referred to the celebration of Victory Day on the streets of Croatian towns. The word, which is taken from a Croatian newspaper and then exploited in the Serbian media, was left out in only one out of eight dailies Skrozza analysed.

In an interview with MDI Western Balkans, Skrozza said that the media coverage of Operation Storm anniversary very much reminded her of wartime reporting and propaganda from the 90’s.

“How the counting of war arsenal can be understood if not like an incitement of a new war,” Skrozza said.

Twenty years after the Yugoslav conflict ended, a lot of work has been done to help Serbian media become more professional, ethical and responsible. But what has changed so far? Who is to blame for such media coverage 20 years after some of the media in Serbia were known for war propaganda and hostility towards other nations and political options?

Despite all the work some organisations and media professionals did with journalists in Serbia, and in the region, during last two decades, there is still lack of professional reporting. Skrozza believes that the key problem is editors and editorial policy they are in charge of. Each journalist has an editor and some of them, says Skrozza, are very biased and in service of the Government and political parties.

Media coverage of Operation Storm seen in some Serbian newspapers in August 2015 is an example of how media discourse can have very negative consequences on the reconciliation process that all sides in the former conflict are obliged for. No matter how much the political elite has declared to work towards reconciliation in the Balkans, most of the media coverage in the region leads to a very different conclusion.