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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CPJ Should Reconsider Victims' List




An open letter to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.


Dear colleagues,


We were dismayed by your decision not to include the 16 people killed in the bombing of Radio Television Serbia last year in your annual tally of journalists killed in the line of duty. As you say in your explanatory note, they formally fit your definition of a journalist, but you decided not to include them because by working for Serbia's state broadcaster they promoted that state's campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. We think this is terribly wrong.


In a society as polarized as Serbia's, all media, unfortunately, turn into propaganda vehicles. Any pretense of objectivity is sacrificed for advancing particular political goals. This is true of nonstate media as well as the regime's outlets. One example of a non-Milosevic propaganda machine is the recently closed Studio B, which, being a municipal broadcaster, single-handedly promoted the goals of one party, the Serbian Renewal Movement. This is not to say, of course, that all propaganda is equally evil; it is simply equally far removed from real journalism. Which means that your decision to omit the RTS staff from your list was based not on the fact that RTS is a propaganda vehicle but on the specific ideology RTS promotes.


The 16 people who died in the bombing were, without exception, technical personnel: makeup artists, lighting technicians, etc. None of them had any influence on the content put forward by RTS. For this reason too it seems gratuitous to exclude them from your list on ideological grounds. But though these were not writers or on-air personalities, their deaths typified the journalist's predicament in a conflict. Journalists die because both sides see them as enemies at worst, disposable at best. It is worth noting that most bombings of major objects in Belgrade proper did not cause human casualties. This is because the authorities evacuated buildings that were known to be on the North Atlantic Treat Organization's target list. Everyone in Belgrade knew RTS was on the list, but it was not evacuated (though backup studios were constructed), because journalists, unlike soldiers or police, are considered disposable by the regime. Those who were in Belgrade during the bombing campaign remember the panicked expressions on anchors' faces as they broadcast at night from studios on the top floors of high-rises. They knew they were being sacrificed. Surely the technical personnel felt just as frightened and alone. How unfair that they should be abandoned again in death f and by their colleagues.


We urge you to reconsider your decision.


Masha Gessen, chief correspondent, Itogi magazine, Moscow


Bernhard Odehnal, Weltwoche, Zurich


Thomas Seifert, NEWS magazine special correspondent


David Filipov, Moscow bureau chief, The Boston Globe


Matt Bivens, editor, The Moscow Times


Anna Badkhen, reporter, The Moscow Times


Anna Husarska


Andrei Zolotov Jr., reporter, The Moscow Times


Oliver Heilwagen, freelance journalist, Berlin, Germany


Ivan Sigal, Internews Network regional director for Central Asia