Western media giving biased coverage of Balkan events
By Dr. Jan Oberg

Few citizens can go to conflict regions to develop an understanding and form an opinion. Most of us rely on the dailies, the radio and television.

The media stand between the events and each one of us. Therefore what we obtain is not necessarily reality, but an image of it, a part of it -- some aspects and angles rather than others. It can hardly be otherwise, in principle.

But what if the coverage is systematically biased? What if there is a tendency in what is not covered?

Once again, there is a Balkan crisis. And once again, some of us who have been on the ground for about 10 years ask, "Do we have a free press on which those at home can safely rely?"

Here are some examples of what could have featured prominently in the headlines about Macedonia the last few months. Most citizens are likely not to have heard much about them in the mainstream media. Therefore, they may not have thought of these events and their implications.

• What is the story of the Americans who are working with the Kosovo Liberation Army and its National Liberation Army proxy (KLA/NLA)? Why did NATO, in contravention of its mandate in Macedonia, evacuate KLA/NLA soldiers with American advisors and equipment out of Aracinovo?

• Why did NATO and the U.N. in Kosovo turn a blind eye to KLA/NLA operations in the American sector and the demilitarised zone?

• Which governments, agencies, mercenary companies and arms dealers have supplied the KLA/NLA with weapons since 1993?

• What kind of misinformation and propaganda campaigns is the press the object of by NATO and others? For example, why did the press suddenly begin to refer to Macedonians as "Slavs" or "Slav Macedonians", as they have never before been called? Or why are Macedonians frequently called "nationalists"-- a word never used to refer to Albanians with guns in their hands?

• What about the suffering and socio-economic deprivation of the Macedonians, not just the Albanians?
n Are EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (NATO secretary general at the time it bombed Yugoslavia) and NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson (then British secretary of defence) personally responsible for the destabilisation of Macedonia?

• Why is there no conflict journalism, but only war reporting? Was there enough ethnic hatred in Macedonia to spark a war if the Western countries had not meddled in their affairs?

• Why was one of the best missions in the history of the United Nations, UNPREDEP, forced out of Macedonia in 1999 to allow NATO to (mis)use the country for its own "peaceful" aims?

• Why has the U.N.'s Mr. Haek-kerup in Pristina, the highest authority in Kosovo, not been asked to explain why 46,000 NATO soldiers in Kosovo did not actually disarm the KLA/NLA -- despite the official statement in autumn 1999 that the KLA/NLA was disarmed and declared illegal?

• How do the European politicians feel about the one-sided Ohrid "Peace" Agreement of August 13 that demands no guarantees or obligations of the Albanians (except for the handing in of some of their weapons) and rewards only the Albanian extremists who unilaterally turned the conflict into war?

• The KLA/NLA has been permitted to commit two international aggressions -- one into Southern Serbia and one into Macedonia. They are called "armed thugs" by NATO and the European Union. Yet they maintain de facto Western support, have been a negotiations partner of NATO, and have been offered amnesty. Why?

• Why have the EU, NATO and the U.S. worked together to prevent the state of Macedonia from exercising its right to self defence, according to the Charter of the United Nations Article 51, by threatening to withdraw economic aid if it fought back "disproportionately" when the KLA/NLA occupied the country, bit by bit?

• Why was Macedonia never paid any compensation for putting up with 10 years of Western sanctions against its main trading partner, Yugoslavia? Why was Macedonia never compensated for NATO's turning it into a combined refugee camp and military base?

• Why has the KLA/NLA leadership not been arrested by NATO and the U.N. long ago, as they have the authority to do; and why are Albanian leaders seldom mentioned in relation to the Hague Tribunal?

• What are the relations between certain hard-line Albanian leaders and the trade in drugs, women, cigarettes and other black market dealings that provide most of the cash with which the KLA/NLA obtains their arms?

• Instead of writing about the noble human rights-democracy-peace-stabilisation gobbledygook of powerful people, why are we not told about the real interests the Western countries have in the Balkans, such as oil in the Caucasus, geo-strategic issues, the U.S. Bondsteel base and its function in Kosovo, the containment of Russia, the violent spreading of the market economy and the expansion of NATO.

• Having had no international mission before, how could former Danish defence minister Mr. Haekkerup be given the top position as peacemaker in Kosovo; and why was Danish General Gunnar Lange assigned to head NATO's "Essential Harvest"-- even though Denmark contributes no troops to it.

• Why does General Lange grossly underestimate the military strength of the KLA/NLA by requesting it to hand in only 3,300 weapons to be considered "disarmed" and "disbanded"?

• Why does NATO, after only two days in Macedonia, side with the aggressor KLA/NLA in accepting their estimate of numbers of their own weapons and not with the legitimate government of the country whose estimate is at least 60,000?

• General Lange and NATO spokesman Daniel Speckard state repeatedly that if the Macedonian government does not accept what NATO says and does, "The alternative is clear; the alternative is war." This is untrue and it is blackmail.

• The Western media and decision-makers allegedly care so much for minorities and refugees. Then why do they do virtually nothing to focus on and help 600,000 refugees in Yugoslavia -- innocent, ordinary citizens of Serb origin who have been driven out of Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo?

• What are the real reasons the U.N. has not been involved in Macedonia the last six months. It is a classical case for the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. is the organisation that knows this country best. Why did Kofi Annan keep quiet? Why was the issue of Macedonia not taken up in the Security Council? Why has no one mentioned the perfectly obvious idea of setting up a U.N. peace-keeping mission in Macedonia?

If the major media generally do not address issues such as these, can they claim to be free to publish the news or should we see them as complicit in power politics -- as servile and politically correct? Do the Western media manage to preserve their integrity and critical investigative capacities when their own governments go to make peace, but in reality, make war? Does "free media" really mean that they can be as biased as they please, or that they have been advised to be biased by powerful circles?

The usual argument is that there are individual journalists, reporters, columnists and editors who actually address issues like these; and that is true. Unfortunately, they remain a tiny minority in the margins of the generalised media picture on the basis of which the great majority of citizens form their opinions.

What YOU can do

Cut out or copy this article and send it to such major Canadian papers as The Globe and Mail and The National Post, as well as to your own local newspapers. Send a covering letter asking them if they are giving proper coverage to such world events as the conflict in Macedonia -- or are they simply letting people know a slanted view of the facts. Ask if they have covered the points outlined in this story and if not, why not.

We must always think about things, and we must think about things as they are, not as they are said to be.
George Bernard Shaw

Dr. Oberg is a director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, a Swedish-based group whose mission is peace: learning to handle conflicts with the use of less violence against other human beings, other cultures and nature. See further information at their website: http://www.transnational.org