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Index on Censorship

No media - no war
Richard Holbrooke
Index on Censorship 1999 28: 20
DOI: 10.1080/03064229908536578
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>> Version of Record - May 1, 1999

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No media - no war
osnia had a storyline, a very clear storyline, and as a result of that
storyline the press, led by the New York Times and CNN had an
amazing impact on policy in the United States; I think there was
comparable coverage in Europe. Let's be clear: the reason the West
finally, belatedly intervened was heavily related to media coverage. The
reason Rwanda did not get the same kind of attention was heavily
related to media coverage or the lack thereof.
Just a week ago, I was on a panel at the Museum of Broadcasting in
New York where Christiane Annanpour was challenged by a panellist
who said, 'You did a great job in Bosnia, why didn't you go to Rwanda
where far more people died?' Her answer was astonishing: politely but
firmly 'I was in Rwanda. I did cover it. I know what was happening but
the O J Simpson trial was on and I couldn't get on the air for CNN.'
One million people died in four months in an organised genocide
that has been matched only a few times this century. But CNN was too
busy. The Bosnia coverage really made a difference.
Let me move quickly to the current situation, to Kosovo. In Kosovo,
the storyline re-emerged very dramatically. And it has had a huge effect
on policy in the last year. A year ago, 13 months ago today, the Kosova
Liberation Army was unheard of. In less than a year, more rapidly than
any other liberation front in history, it has imposed itself as an
international factor in policy-making. Castro, the Viet Cong, the PLO:
no similar organisation ever moved that fast.
And that is what the media has done. You can like it or dislike it.
Milosevic's view on this is well known: he thinks it's a media plot. I
think the journalists have done their job. They've reported an important
political fact. But 10 years after the Wall, as we now face the most
serious crisis that NATO and the US, our NATO allies and the EU have
faced since the end of the Cold War, the media is playing a central role.
For policy-makers, what is reported and what isn't matters profoundly.


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Now perhaps the policy-makers spend too much time trying to shape
the reporting on the first day and then over reacting to it the next day.
That would be my view: they should do less spinning and then less overreacting but that's something one can't change, it's inherent in the nature
of Washington. And we're just going to have to live with it. But if the
press had not been in Suvereka in September with those extroardinary
pictures of 13 people who had been massacred; and again in Racak in
January with the 45 people who had been massacred, everything would
have been different. Those events the inexcusable slaughter of
innocent people by Serbian security forces - were not without
precedent: many similar things throughout the region in the last decade
had gone unreported. [This time] it was the media coverage that drove
first the events that lead to my October mission which resulted in a
temporary agreement which was constrained by the fact that it had no
enforcement provisions and we had no ground troops; and the second
set of negotiations which have now run their course and led to the
Milosevic's decision to take the course he chose has made the
bombing inevitable and unavoidable; in effect, he pulled the trigger on
himself. This process was profoundly, centrally affected on a day by day
basis by the coverage in the press. I do want to stress how central their
role has been. Q
Richard Holbrooke is the US Special Envoy to former Yugoslavia. He was
speaking at 'Between Past and Future' a conference held at the Central European
University, Budapest, 26-28 March this year

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