Armin Medosch on Tue, 11 May 1999 20:37:23 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> blair speech




Of course the major preoccupation of politicians and media alike in
recent weeks has been the Kosovo crisis.

As I have said before, the responsibility of asking servicemen and women
to risk their lives is one that any Prime Minister takes very seriously
indeed.  You do not do it unless you think it through and you believe it
to be right.

Every single political leader in the NATO Alliance has thought it
through and believes it to be right.  The longer it goes on, and the
more we hear of the nature of the Milosevic regime and the atrocities
committed, the more convinced I become of the rightness of our course.
Our aims have been clear throughout.  His troops must get out, and the
refugees must be allowed home in safety under an international military
force.  These are basic minimum demands and they will be met.

This is the media age, the era of 24-hour news, in which events are
subject to    instant and relentless analysis and commentary. 

As the politicians who ultimately take the decisions to send our forces
into battle, it is absolutely right that we are subject to such analysis
- something which President Milosevic does not agree with, but then that
is one of the many distinctions between dictatorship and democracy.

This is largely presented as a two-sided conflict - NATO versus
Milosevic.  But it is not as simple as that.  There is a third party,
the Kosovar Albanians, and for various reasons, they are in danger of
being overlooked and sidelined in the media.  That is not to say there
has not been some powerful reporting on the refugees.  There has.  There
was one such piece on the radio this morning.  There have been many
others and they have helped our public understand why we are engaged in
the way that we are.

But when I visited Macedonia last week, one of the TV reporters there
told a member of my staff that he was really pleased we went.  My visit,
he said, meant there was a chance of him getting a report on the news
that night.  He'd been struggling in recent days.  His news desk had
told him that "refugee fatigue" was setting in.

Refugee fatigue.  In other words, once you've reported one mass rape,
the next one's not so newsworthy.  See one mass grave, you've seen the
lot.  This is a dangerous path, and it is one that benefits the Serbs.
The reporter said the story told by the refugees became repetitive.
That is because the Serbs follow a pattern.  News doesn't like patterns.
It likes news.

Please understand that this is not an attack on the media but a plea for
understanding of the full picture, despite - through no fault of your
own - your limited access to it.

For the Serbs also benefit from the fact that there is no media access
to Kosovo, and I fully understand why most journalists would not want to
risk even trying to get in there.

But just as we should be alert to the dangers of refugee fatigue, so we
must resist the notion that unless something is on film, it's not news.
No pictures, no news. 

We live in a democracy.  We take freedom of speech and freedom of the
press, for granted.  Whatever your criticisms, I defend your right to
make them.

The Serb media is State-controlled.  It is part and parcel of
Milosevic's military machine.  Critical editors are shot.  Independent
radio stations are shut down.  Western journalists are censored and
restricted and the bland "reporters are subject to certain restrictions"
at the beginning or end of their reports does not really convey the full
nature of those restrictions.

If reporters are only allowed to see what the Serbs want, and if their
reports are censored, then it is very hard, if not impossible, to be
genuinely authoratitive.
If a bomb goes astray, and hits a residential area, or the Chinese
Embassy is mistakenly attacked, then I'm not going to pretend that is
not news.  It is.

But if these are the only scenes reporters are allowed to see and this
becomes the only news they report, then it is far from being the whole
picture.  Several thousand bombs have been used in the campaign.  A very
small proportion have gone astray.  We regret, genuinely, the loss of
civilian life, the pain and hurt they cause.  But of course the Serbs
only show you the damage they want you to see. 

The fact that the media is not inside Kosovo in my view increases,
rather than lessens, the responsibility to try to find out what is going
on in there.

And as refugees are the prime source, then surely we need to be extra
vigilant not to fall victim to "refugee fatigue".

There have been civilian deaths in Belgrade, yes.  But how does it
compare to 1.5 million people driven from their homes?  100,000 men aged
15-55 missing?  The systematic rape?  The mass graves?  The executions?
People forced to bury their dead, and then murdered and - thrown in on

If the cameras were in there, able to see these things, the world would
see a very different situation to the one being reported.

The conflict does not begin or end on a TV screen.

You may be wondering why I have a map of Kosovo behind me, and what it

It shows 20 incidents, all since early March, in which more than 100
people have been killed, or 1000 or more displaced from towns and
villages inside Kosovo.

The numbers of dead run into thousands; the number displaced tens of
thousands.  We published the map last week.  It made very little impact.

'No pictures, no news'.   But I believe the fact that there are no
pictures is part of the story.

And it is a story that has to be told, day after day, pictures or no

These are real places, real people.  Real stories of burnt villages,
devastated families, lootings, robberies, beatings, mass executions.
These people are the reason we are engaged and the fact that we cannot
see them makes us more determined to get in there and give them the help
they need.  This is more than a map.  It is a montage of murder.

Of course we regret the loss of civilian life in Nis and at the Chinese
Embassy.  Every single one of them.

But are these tens of thousands of lives inside Kosovo worth less
because there happens to be no film of them?  Are they non-people not
worth a studio discussion simply because CNN and the BBC and the rest
cannot get in on the ground?

Few of us have even heard of Orlate.  Look at the map.  "Village set on
fire after 200 executions".   Is that not a story of horrific
proportions?   Was that news?  Shouldn't it be?

Or Malakrusa?  Did that get much coverage when we published the map, or
at any time before and since?  "112 men shot - bodies burnt to conceal
evidence".  No pictures, no news.

These deaths are not the unintended consequences of military action.
They are acts of policy.  Deliberate.  Systematic.  And evil.

By controlling the media in Belgrade, or by keeping them out of Kosovo,
Milosevic hopes that we will be lulled; that if you see no evil, you
will speak no evil.  But you can hear of the evil, and the voices
telling of it, the Kosovar Albanians have as much right to be heard as
the Serb ministers or the indicted war criminals who can get themselves
out on screen whenever they want.  Indeed, I would say they have more of
a right.

If I mention "the convoy attack" you know what I mean, because the story
ran for days.  If I mention 20,000 taken prisoner in Srbica, 50,000
expelled from Pec, 270 killed in Izbica, it won't have quite the same
resonance.  No pictures, no news.  But these people are the victims of
the most appalling acts of barbarism and cruelty Europe has seen since
World War 2.  We teach our children never to forget what happened in
that war.  We must not allow ourselves to become sensitised to accept
what is happening in Kosovo today.

I believe that the vast majority of the readers of your newspapers
understand why we are engaged in this conflict.  They understand too
that in conflicts like this, innocent people will be hurt.  Like me,
they regret that.

But provided the full story of the conflict continues to be told I have
no doubt that because of their basic decency, and their basic common
sense, the British people will maintain their support for what we are
doing until the job is done.

And the job will be done.  Of that I am in no doubt whatever.  We have
taken down Milosevic's air defences.  We have done huge damage to the
infrastructure that supports his regime, the fuel dumps and refineries
that keep his artillery and tanks on the move; the bridges, railways and
roads he needs to supply his forces;  the power plants; the high command
in Belgrade who are directing the ethnic cleansing on the ground.

And with all that done, we are doing more and more damage to the ethnic
cleansers themselves.  They are increasingly cut off inside Kosovo.
Supplies, food and fuel are scarce.  They have no air cover and proper
accommodation.  They are pinned down; unable to move freely, busy
repairing the damage we have done.

I made a pledge to those refugees.  I intend to deliver.  Refugee
fatigue may have set in with some TV stations, but it will not set in
with me until the refugees are home.

Our objectives are clear.  And they must and will be met.  And to
achieve them, far from slowing down, we will intensify our attacks upon
Milosevic's military machine until he accepts what he knows, what I
know, what every NATO and Serb Commander knows - that he cannot win and
that NATO will prevail.

Martin Cole
London Correspondents' Service

Telepolis - Magazine of NetCulture

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