Writer Milan Oklopdžić ("Mika Oklop") was living in the U.S. as a refugee with his family when, on April 22nd, 1999, NATO bombed
the Belgrade broadcasting studio of Radio Television Serbia (RTV), where he had worked for at least a decade. Among the sixteen dead (and more wounded) was the daughter of
Oklop's close friend, a cameraman. According to Oklop's family, "Mika went out of his mind when that news arrived."
Indeed, when Oklop wrote the following anguished piece on the need for free media in a democratically viable nation, NATO had been bombing
Yugoslavia for two months. Preceding that, independent newspapers, radio, and television had all endured longtime and increasing government threats, harassment, intimidation,
fines, closures, police interference, and so on. Christopher Bennett, Director of International Crisis Group’s Balkan Project wrote of the period: “Since there were few
alternative sources of information, what average Yugoslavs believed depended almost entirely on what their media were telling them. Years before the first shots were fired, the
media were already at war and the journalists who deliberately fanned the flames of national hatred must bear a heavy responsibility for the carnage.”
Oklop’s “One Way Media and Messaging” might ring a bell for people asking post-2016 election questions about our own
media. For example, it’s difficult not to hear echoes of Oklop’s account below in Neal Gabler’s “Farewell, America,” (Nov. 10, 2016):
Trump already has promised to take his war on the press into
courtrooms and the halls of Congress. He wants to loosen
libel protections, and he has threatened Washington Post
owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon with an antitrust suit. Individual journalists have reason to fear him as well.
He has already singled out NBC’s Katy Tur, perhaps the best of the television reporters, so that she needed the Secret Service to escort her from one of his rallies. Jewish
journalists who have criticized Trump have been subjected to vicious anti-Semitism and intimidation from the alt-right.
And here is Masha Gessen considering what more could happen to our free press under the new administration (New York Review of Books, November 11, 2016):
The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism. There is no law that requires the presidential
administration to hold daily briefings, none that guarantees media access to the White House. Many journalists may soon face a dilemma long familiar to those of us who have worked
under autocracies: fall in line or forfeit access. …The power of the investigative press—whose adherence to fact has already been severely challenged…—will
grow weaker. The world will grow murkier.
We can only hope that Oklop’s “message” is relevant for us now, and cautionary, but not prescient.
One Way Media and Messaging:
On the democratization of media in Yugoslavia
One of the cornerstones of every free society is free media. What we learn from history is that, in most cases, free media precedes
other establishments of the expanding democratization of the system. Unfortunately, Serbia (Yugoslavia without Montenegro) is
still missing this basis for a progressing democratic media at the end of the millennium. As an active media witness in the city of
Belgrade, and as an author of numerous articles, essays, novels & plays, I intend to provide a modest contribution to the
deliverance of radio & TV, as well as of the printed media, in this capital of Serbia.
The “solution” to the problem of independent media in Serbia shows blatant ignorance of the basic principles of professional
journalism, while also being offensive to news professionals, especially those who have been exposed to brutal oppression by the regime for their commitment to freedom of speech.
Independent journalists in Serbia have been pressured, arrested, terrorized, and even murdered for their beliefs and reporting.
Radio B92 was banned for the third time in its ten-year long history in April 1999, on the second day of the NATO attack on
Yugoslavia; Mr. Slavko Ćuruvija, Editor-in-Chief and owner of the independent newspaper Dveni Telegraf was killed in front of his
apartment complex, also in April, on Easter Sunday, and in the midst of NATO’s assault. For what good reason?
The answer is in the regime’s need to support one-way media impact on its citizens. The other end receives the so-called
“balanced” or “extended” truth, which gives a false sense of hope and has a convalescing effect on residents in the midst of turmoil.
Mr. Ćuruvija was assassinated because of his willingness to constantly reveal the whole and unbiased message to his readers.
As for Radio B92, its Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Veran Matić puts it lucidly:
We have been struggling not only against oppressive measures by the Serbian government, but also against any
violation of the principles of independent journalism worldwide. It is exactly for these efforts that B92 has won various international awards—for showing solidarity with
colleagues whose rights have been abused. However brutally B92 has been scrutinized and demonized by the Serbian TV
for persistently objecting to its 10-year history of hate speech and war mongering, we could never approve of a preposterous decision to bomb the propaganda out. Media
and journalists cannot be declared media targets. Instead, those responsible for spreading ethnic hatred and intolerance
through their words should be brought to a justice other than a military one.
Of course, no bombs, from the outside or the inside, can solve the problem of media openness in Serbia today. Also, I am not
convinced that independent media alone could have averted the spiral of violence in this country. However, there should have
been more serious dedication from the international community to help democratic developments in Yugoslavia—by supporting
non-governmental organizations, local governments and opposition political options. Only now, after almost two months of
NATO air raids, has there been any mention of some kind of mini-Marshall Plan. No doubt, such a plan is very welcome. However,
it could have played a preemptive role had it been considered before the violence erupted.
Further, uncompromising research into the matter would include answers to questions about the “reasons for failure,” taped (both
audio and visual) interviews with politicians, newspaper editors, citizens, opposition leaders, and everyone who is or has been
involved in the aching course of one way media messaging in Yugoslavia. Such research would result in several approaches to
establishing a media modus operandi in all Serbian cities that are unmistakably eager to obtain veracious information from a disengaged government.
For other Scene4 publication of English-language writings by
Milan Oklopdžić (“Mika Oklop”), edited and introduced by Lissa Tyler Renaud:
The Former Future (December 2011)
Amerika for Beginners (March 2012)
Faxvel: A Novel by Fax [Excerpts] (November 2013)
Gray (July 2014)
Factory Sealed (December 2015)
The Last Blue (July 2016)
Cover Photo - Mika Oklop in California
Courtesy of the Oklop Estate