Category Archives: Bombing media facilities

NATO Bombs RTS – TV Station in Belgrad

NATO Bombs TV Station in Serbia

Emergency rescue workers carry victims out of the Belgrade TV station bombed by NATO

‘Once you kill people because you don’t like what they say, you change the rules of war’

by Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 23, 1999

Hanging upside-down from the wreckage was a dead man, in his fifties perhaps, although a benevolent grey dust had covered his face. Not far away, also upside-down – his legs trapped between tons of concrete and steel – was a younger man in a pullover, face grey, blood dribbling from his head on to the rubble beneath.

Deep inside the tangle of cement and plastic and iron, in what had once been the make-up room next to the broadcasting studio of Serb Television, was all that was left of a young woman, burnt alive when Nato’s missile exploded in the radio control room. Within six hours, the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, declared the place a “legitimate target.”

It wasn’t an argument worth debating with the wounded – one of them a young technician who could only be extracted from the hundreds of tons of concrete in which he was encased by amputating both his legs. Nor with the silent hundreds who gathered in front of the still-smoking ruin at dawn yesterday, lost for words as they stood in the little glade of trees beside St Marko’s Cathedral, where Belgrade’s red and cream trams turn round.

A Belgrade fireman pulled at one of the bodies for all of 30 seconds before he realised that the man, swinging back and forth amid the wreckage, was dead. By dusk last night, 10 crushed bodies – two of them women – had been tugged from beneath the concrete, another man had died in hospital and 15 other technicians and secretaries still lay buried. A fireman reported hearing a voice from the depths as the heavens opened, turning into mud the muck and dust of a building that Ms. Short had declared to be a “propaganda machine.”

We had all wondered how long it would be before Nato decided that Radio Televizija Srbija should join the list of “military” targets. Spokesmen had long objected to its crude propaganda – itincluded a Nato symbol turning into a swastika and a montage of Madeleine Albright growing Dracula teeth in front of a burning building. It never reported on the tens of thousands of Albanian refugees who spoke of executions and “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo. It endlessly repeated films that depicted Yugoslav soldiers as idealised heroes defending their country. It carried soporific tapes of President Slobodan Milosevic meeting patriarchs, Cossacks, Russian envoys and the Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova.

The channel was showing an American interview with Mr Milosevic when the first cruise missile smashed into the station’s control room just after two o’clock yesterday morning. But did this justify killing the night staff in their studios and taping rooms? Two weeks ago, Nato’s spokesmen had been suggesting that RTS would have to carry six hours of Western television a day if it was to survive – CNN’s bland, safe coverage of events presumably offering some balance to the rubbish churned out on the RTS news.

But once Nato decided this was as preposterous as it was impracticable, its spokesman announced that the station was not on the list of Nato targets. Then, on Monday, CNN’s bosses called up from Atlanta to inform the satellite boys in Belgrade that they should pull out of the RTS offices.

Against the wishes of other Nato nations, so the word went, General Wesley Clark had decided to bomb Serb television. CNN withdrew from the building in Takovska Street. And that night, we were all invited to have coffee and orange juice in the studios. The building was likely to be a target of the “Nato aggressor”, according to Goran Matic, a Yugoslav federal minister, as he walked us through the ground floor of the doomed building. Yet, oddly, we did not take him seriously. Even when the air-raid siren sounded, I stayed for another coffee.

Surely Nato wouldn’t waste its bombs on this tiresome station with its third-rate propaganda and old movies, let alone kill its staff. Yesterday morning, the moment I heard the cruise missile scream over my hotel roof, I knew I was wrong. There was a thunderous explosion and a mile-high cloud of dust as four storeys collapsed to the ground, sandwiching offices, machines, transmitters and people into a pile of rubble only 15 feet high.

Yet, within six hours, Serb television was back on the air, beaming its programmes from secret transmitters, the female anchorwoman reading the news from pieces of pink paper between pre-recorded films of Serbian folk-songs and ancient Orthodox churches. All along, the Serbs had been ready for just such an attack. We had not believed Nato capable of such ferocity.

The Serbs had. The crowds still stood in the park as darkness fell, watching the men with drills punching their way through the concrete for more survivors. By that time, explanations were flowing from Nato’s birthday celebrations in Washington. Serbia’s “propaganda machine” had been prolonging the war.

I wonder. I seem to recall Croatian television spreading hatred a-plenty when it was ethnically cleansing 170,000 Serbs from Croatia in 1995. But we didn’t bomb Zagreb. And when President Franjo Tudjman’s lads were massacring Serbs and Muslims alike in Bosnia, we didn’t bomb his residence.

Was Serbian television’s real sin its broadcast of film of the Nato massacre of Kosovo Albanian refugees last week, killings that Nato was forced to admit had been a mistake? Yes, Serbian television could be hateful, biased, bad. It was owned by the government. But once you kill people because you don’t like what they say, you have changed the rules of war. And that’s what Nato did in Belgrade in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Serbian families given legal aid to sue over TV studio bombing

Independent (UK), September 03, 2001
Serbian families given legal aid to sue over TV studio bombing

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent

The families of victims of the Nato bombing raid on a Belgrade television studio have been given legal aid to sue the United Kingdom and 16 other countries over allegations that the attack was illegal under European law.

A Colchester law firm has been instructed by the Serbian families to help win compensation and secure a ruling that would define the parameters for future Nato operations. At a test case to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg next month, British lawyers representing the Nato member states will challenge the court’s jurisdiction before denying accusations that the countries breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

The families’ lawyer, Tony Fisher, said the legal aid had been awarded by the European court to help pay for legal representation to respond to Nato’s “preliminary observations”.

The attack on the studios in April 1999 was part of a 78-day bombing campaign designed to force the Yugoslav government of former president Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw its forces from Kosovo and stop the persecution of ethnic Albanians. Nato justified its attack on the television station, in which 16 died and at least 16 were injured, by saying that it was broadcasting propaganda that was being picked up and retransmitted by Western media.

Most of the casualties were production workers and one was a make-up artist. Among the victims was Ksenija Bankovic, 26, a video technician. Her mother and father are one of the four families who together with one survivor are taking the legal action.

Mr Fisher, whose firm was instructed because of its close links with the internationally renowned human rights centre at Essex University, said his clients had brought the action against 17 Nato states which “took part in or approved the attack”. The two other member states of Nato – the United States and Canada – are not subject to the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The families claim the European Nato members breached the right to life and right of freedom of expression protected under the Convention. The application was first initiated by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights.

The British Government and other Nato members have been asked to answer questions about what alternative action was open to them before they sanctioned the bombing. They have also been asked whether the attack constituted a use of “lethal force which was strictly necessary”.

Under the court’s rules, all 17 respondent states have now appointed a French judge as the “common interest” judge to help co-ordinate the case.

Mr Fisher said he hoped to receive further funding from the court to attend a preliminary hearing scheduled to take place on 24 October. He said the families’ case was a “purely legal one” without political overtones.

British lawyers have already told the court that because the former Yugoslavia was not a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights the case was outside its jurisdiction.

The day after the attack Robin Cook, who was Britain’s Foreign Secretary at the time, defended the action. “It is not enough for us simply to disrupt the poisonous propaganda of Milosevic,” Mr Cook said. “It is just as important that we enable his people to learn the truth.”

Tony Blair also defended the bombing. “These stations are part of Milosevic’s apparatus of dictatorship and power which is used to do ethnic cleansing in Kosovo,” he said.



52207/99   |   Decision   |   Court (Grand Chamber)   |   12/12/2001

1 The United Kingdom has withdrawn its derogation as of 26 February 2001, except in relation to Crown Dependencies. Turkey reduced the scope of its derogation by communication to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe dated 5 May 1992.

2.  Article 56 § 1 enables a Contracting State to declare that the Convention shall extend to all or any of the territories for whose international relations that State is responsible.


Western documents dealing with the NATO bombing of the RTS in Belgrad

Western documents dealing with the NATO bombing of the RTS in Belgrad


1. Press Release: Prosecutor’s Report on the Nato Bombing Campaign. The Hague, 13 June 2000

2. Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

3. Anne-Sophie Massa, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo and the Decision of the Prosecutor of the ICTY Not to Investigate: An Abusive Exercise of Prosecutional Discretion, Berkley J. of International Law,  Vol. 24, No. 2 (2006)

4.  Paolo Benvenuti, The ICTY Prosecutor and the Review of the NATO Bombing Campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, EJIL (2001), Vol. 12, No. 3, 503-529

5. IWPR: NATO Case’ – Tribunal prosecutors’ final report made public.

6.  Barbara Crossette, U.N. War Crimes Prosecutor Declines to Investigate NATO, New York Times, June 3, 2000,


Serb TV station was legitimate target, says Blair

Serb TV station was legitimate target, says Blair

By Richard Norton-Taylor, Saturday 24 April 1999 03.20 BST

Nato leaders yesterday scrambled to justify the bombing of Serbia’s state television station in an attack which killed a number of civilian workers and marked a further widening in the scope of targets now considered legitimate.

The attack on the building in the centre of Belgrade – which contradicted an apparent assurance by Nato this month that only transmitters would be hit – was condemned by international journalists’ organisations, representing both employers and unions.

Reporters at the scene said they saw the almost decapitated body of one man dangling from the rubble, and the body of a make-up artist. Another man was trapped between two concrete blocks. Doctors amputated his legs at the site but he later died.

The state-run news agency Tanjug said about 150 people were inside the building at the time of the attack. The minister without portfolio, Goran Matic, said that in addition to 10 dead and 18 wounded, at least 20 people were feared buried in the rubble.

Officials said the missile also destroyed a satellite link with Eurovision used by foreign television crews to transmit material abroad, though the station was back on the air in Serbia within six hours.

The attack was the latest in a series of controversial targets, and followed the bombing of President Slobodan Milosevic’s house on Thursday and an attack the previous day on the Serbian Socialist party’s headquarters building, which also contained the offices of television stations run by members of his family or people close to his regime.

Tony Blair, in Washington for Nato’s 50th anniversary summit, insisted that bombing television stations was ‘entirely justified’ since they were part of the ‘apparatus of dictatorship and power of Milosevic’. He added: ‘The responsibility for every single part of this action lies with the man who has engaged in this policy of ethnic cleansing and must be stopped.’

At a heated press briefing at the Ministry of Defence, Clare Short, the international development secretary, said: ‘This is a war, this is a serious conflict, untold horrors are being done. The propaganda machine is prolonging the war and it’s a legitimate target.’

Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, chief of joint operations at the ministry of defence, said Mr Milosevic’s ‘propaganda machine consists of transmitters but also the studios from which the information is transmitted. That makes it part of the overall military structure. Both elements have to be attacked.’

Nato’s military spokesman, Air Commodore David Wilby, two weeks ago described RTS, the Serbian state broadcasting station, as a ‘legitimate target which filled the airways with hate and with lies over the years’. However, Jamie Shea, the Nato council spokesman, denied that RTS was a target, distinguishing between transmitters ‘integrated into [military] command and control commmunications’ and normal broadcasting facilities.

On April 12, Mr Shea told Aidan White, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, that Nato would ‘target military targets only. Television and radio towers are only struck if they are integrated into military facilities, as they often are in Yugoslavia,’ he said, but added: ‘There is no policy to strike television and radio transmitters as such.’

In a statement yesterday, the IFJ condemned the attack, warning that it could lead to reprisals against independent journalists who have been campaigning against controls imposed by the Milosevic regime. ‘We have been trying to trace journalists who have gone missing or been detained by the Serb authorities. Their plight is made ever more perilous by this latest strike,’ it said.

John Foster, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists described the attack as ‘barbarity’. He added: ‘Killing journalists does not stop censorship, it only brings more repression.’ Peter Almond, chairman of the Defence Correspondents’ Association, expressed ‘considerable disquiet’, particularly in the light of Mr Shea’s assurance to the IFJ.

In Geneva, the European Broadcasting Union, which groups the main stations in and around Europe, said the Belgrade television centre had been used to transmit news reports by international as well as local media. ‘We do not see how the suppression of news sources can serve any useful purpose,’ the EBU’s president, Albert Scharf, said.

‘Over and beyond the deaths involved, the EBU is concerned about any attempts to limit the rights of audiences to full news services.’

Bulgaria said yesterday that a Nato air-to-ground missile fell almost halfway between the border with Yugoslavia and the capital Sofia on Thursday.

4 May 1999

Nato’s escalation of its bombing campaign to demonstrate its capacity to black out Serbian electrical and power supplies was marred yesterday by the accidental destruction of another bus, with 20 civilians reported killed, followed by Serb claims of another bomb hitting a residential neighbourhood.

7 May 1999

Nato denies attacking hospital

16 May 1999

Was she a human shield or just a Nato mistake?

16 May 1999

Was she a human shield or just a Nato mistake?

23 Apr 1999

Serb TV bombed off the air

Up to 20 dead as Nato hits second bus

4 May 1999

Nato’s escalation of its bombing campaign to demonstrate its capacity to black out Serbian electrical and power supplies was marred yesterday by the accidental destruction of another bus, with 20 civilians reported killed, followed by Serb claims of another bomb hitting a residential neighbourhood.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

UN official “deplores” NATO attack on Libyan TV

UN official “deplores” NATO attack on Libyan TV

UNITED NATIONS Aug 8 (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO sharply rebuked NATO on Monday for its July 30 air strikes against Libyan state television that killed several people and wounded nearly a dozen.

“I deplore the NATO strike on Al-Jamahiriya and its installations,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement.

“Media outlets should not be targeted in military actions,” she said. “U.N. Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns acts of violence against journalists and media personnel in conflict situations.”

Paris-based UNESCO is the U.N. agency that oversees issues related to freedom of expression and press freedom.

NATO said at the time it bombed three ground-based satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli to silence “terror broadcasts” on state television by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi during an uprising against his rule that has prompted a violent reaction from his forces. [ID:nL3E7IU01L]

Bokova said the NATO strikes were “contrary to the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” which she said have established the civilian status of journalists in times of war, even when they engage in propaganda. She said the NATO strikes killed three media workers and wounded 21 people.

“Silencing the media is never a solution,” she said. “Fostering independent and pluralistic media is the only way to enable people to form their own opinion.”

NATO began launching air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces in March on the basis of a Security Council resolution that authorized U.N. member states to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians short of occupying the country. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

International journalists’ group denounces deadly NATO bombing of Libyan TV

International journalists’ group denounces deadly NATO bombing of Libyan TV


By Associated Press, Published: August 3

The Washington Post   August  3,  2011

BRUSSELS — An international journalists’ group sharply criticized NATO air strikes against Libyan television, which killed three people and injured 15, saying Wednesday they violated international law and U.N. resolutions.


The International Federation of Journalists said the bombing Saturday was in contravention of a Security Council resolution passed in December 2006 that explicitly condemned such attacks against journalists and media.


“We utterly condemn this action, which targeted journalists and threatened their lives in violation of international law,” Brussels-based IFJ secretary-general Beth Costa said.


Libyan officials said the airstrikes early Saturday killed three journalists and injured 15 other people.


NATO said the bombing of the Libyan TV’s satellite dishes was in compliance with the U.N. mandate authorizing the strikes to protect the civilian population.


NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero there was evidence the state TV was increasingly being used by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime to incite violence against the civilian population.


“It is for the military commander to decide on the selection of targets, but his decision is always made in full cognition of and in compliance with international law,” Romero said.


Costa dismissed that explanation, saying the use of “violence to stifle dissident media spell catastrophe for press freedom.”


“Our concern is that when one side decides to take out a media organization because they regard its message as propaganda, then all media are at risk,” Costa said. “In conflict situations, international law is clear that unarmed journalists cannot be treated as combatants, irrespective of their political affiliations.”


She likened the airstrikes to the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbian TV in Belgrade, which killed 16 people. At the time, NATO said the station was a legitimate target because it was a “propaganda mouthpiece” for the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.


Costa urged the alliance to refrain from further attacks on media.


NATO has been increasingly embarrassed by the failure of the bombing campaign, now in its fifth month, to dislodge Gadhafi’s regime. With the fasting month of Ramadan due to last through August, there is a growing realization within the alliance that the costly campaign will drag on into autumn and possibly longer.


Stratfor, a U.S.-based analysis group, said confidence among Western powers leading the air campaign was waning as chances for a quick victory receded.


“The strategy of bombing, waiting for the regime to implode … has been adopted in its stead,” said the analysis, released Tuesday.


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Humanitarian bombers in court

Humanitarian bombers in court

By Noah Tucker, 27 January 2004

For the first time since the Nuremburg trials of Nazis in 1946,the former leadership of a western country was forced to attend court yesterday to defend accusations that their country had committed war crimes. (…)

Wim Kok, who had been a trade union firebrand before becoming prime minister of the Netherlands, and is now a corporate board member of Shell and the Dutch Telecoms company Telfort, avoided giving a view on whether the NATO attack on the Belgrade RTS TV Studio was justified, saying he had only found out after the bombing that 150 civilians had been inside the building at that time. Ex foreign minister van Aartsen on the other hand, appeared enthusiastic about the attack. When the advocate for the victims’ families, Nico Steijnen, asked him about the Amnesty International report which concluded that the TV studio was a purely civilian site, the former cabinet member claimed that the studio was in fact a ‘dual use’ installation which also had a function for the Yugoslavian armed forces. Van Aartsen also stated that the Dutch govenment had in written correspondence with Amnesty International on several occasions before this bombing stating that communications centres in general could be considered legitimate targets; this, he suggested, could be considered sufficient warning to the civilians inside the RTS TV building in Belgrade. Even Judge P. A. Koppen, presiding over the courtroom, appeared to have difficulty concealing his amazement at this statement.

Sixteen people, all civilians, died in the attack, which put the television station out of action for three hours before transmission was resumed.

When asked about the NATO cluster bomb attack on Nis, a Serbian town near a military airfield, Wim Kok stated, “It’s even more sad, seeing that a market and a hospital were hit, that the actual target was missed.” Following the 15 deaths and 70 injured in Nis, the Dutch government decided that its own F16 warplanes would cease dropping cluster bombs on Yugoslavia; the other components of the NATO forces did not change their policy of using these terrifying weapons.

The packed courtroom heard an account of the NATO strategy of gradually increasing the range of sites which it was permissible for US and West European forces to attack, moving from strictly military targets in phase one of the war, to phase two, phase two-plus, and phase three, in which communications, transport and other infrastructure would be destroyed.

Steijnen (for the victims’ families): ‘What was the difference between phase two-plus and phase three’

Kok: ‘In the NATO Council, the transition between phases two and three was considered sensitive. So we had phase two-plus, which included ‘C-three centres’ ‘ command, control and communications targets.’

Steijnen: ‘Why was it sensitive, the move to phase three’

Kok: ‘That was my perception.’

Steijnen: ‘A parliamentary document states explicitly that civil targets were included. Was that the cause of this ‘sensitiveness””

Kok: ‘I can’t say more. The decisions on specific targets were not posed to the Netherlands and did not have to be.’

One could conclude that only a country with no real possiblity of hitting back at its opponents could thus be coldly, systematically brought to its knees in the 78 days of this bombardment, the first major war in Europe since 1945. The tensions within NATO had more to do with keeping public opinion on board than any likelihood that Yugoslavia could score any military successes.

The court appearance was part of a preliminary hearing in an action for compensation from the Dutch state on behalf of victims of the NATO attacks on Nis and the RTS TV Studio. The former defence minister Frank de Grave has yet to to give evidence, and ex-leader of parliament Jeltje van Nieuwenhoven is refusing to attend the court.

After today’s proceedings, Meindert Stelling, a leading member of the campaign for the bombing victims and a founder member of Lawyers for Peace, was optimistic about the outcome. “We have established that the Dutch government was involved all the way, in the decision-making process about what kind of targets would be attacked in which phases of the war. Also, our former foreign minister made it clear that NATO forces needed to operate within the protocol of international law, meaning that a target can only be selected for attack if destroying it or putting it out of action will create a definite military advantage for the attacking party, according to plans and in the circumstances of the time. The government will have to prove that the RTS TV studio was actually in use by the Yugoslavian military. They will also need to show that it was reasonable to drop cluster bombs at Nis, so close to a civilian inhabited area.”

Stelling, himself a former Dutch Air Force pilot, commented further on the day’s evidence. “Our former prime minister showed that he was not in control in Holland’s relationship with the NATO military apparatus. He was not in control of whether the war was conducted within international law. This amounts to neglect.”

Stelling concurs that it might have been convenient for the Dutch leadership and some other European NATO top politicians not to know which specific sites were to be targetted, in case they were illegal.

My discussion with Stelling moves onto the wider issues of the 1999 NATO war against Yugoslavia, and it transpires that, by coincidence, we have both read the recent book by General Wesley K. Clarke, who is currently in the running to be the Democratic Party candidate for election as President of the United States. Although the politicians in the courtroom today had referred to the bombardment of Yugoslavia as having the aim of ‘bringing Milosevic to the negotiating table’, it is clear from the account of the former Supreme Commander of NATO forces and other insiders (for instance Michael Hirsh of Newsweek) that before the bombing started, the western countries made no attempt to negotiate seriously, and instead drew up an ultimatum, the ‘Rambouillet Accord’ which they knew the Yugoslavian leaders could not accept because it included the stationing of foreign troops on Serbian territory with no jurisdiction over their activities by the Serbian and Yugoslavian authorities.


This was a good war for NATO, one that kept the western allies together, put Russia in its place and established a precedent for rich western countries to use military means to intervene in the ‘humanitarian’ affairs of poorer nations. A war that caring liberals, like Clinton, Blair and Wesley K. Clarke could be proud of. A war with no casualties at all on the NATO side.

Nearly five years later, Kosovo is no nearer independence. It is still formally part of Serbia, but is run as a NATO protectorate. Ethnic Albanian militias have ethnically cleansed the Jews, Gypsies and Serbians from the province. Its economy is managed by the World Bank. US company Brown and Root Services, a subsidiary of Halliburton, is reported to be making good profits from the construction of a huge permanent US military base, Camp Bondsteel, which is conveniently located near vital oil and gas energy corridors including the Trans-Balkan Oil Pipeline.

Cluster Bombs do this

As we leave the courtroom, an hour after the end of proceedings for that day, a group of middle-aged women, Serbian civilians, have dismantled the little shrine of crosses and photographs on the concrete steps and are picking up the pieces.

Why the US bombed al-Jazeera’s TV station in Kabul

Why the US bombed al-Jazeera’s TV station in Kabul

By Steve James
21 November 2001

Just before the Northern Alliance marched into Kabul on Monday November 12, US armed forces dropped a 500-pound bomb on the studios of the popular Arab satellite TV station al-Jazeera (the Peninsula). No one was hurt, as the building was not occupied at the time by any of the 10 al-Jazeera journalists and technicians based there, a decision having already been taken to evacuate the building in advance of the Northern Alliance’s entry into Kabul. The same attack damaged nearby offices of the BBC and the Associated Press.

Immediately after the raid, the station’s London bureau chief, Muftah Al Suwaidan, told the Guardian newspaper, “al-Jazeer office is in the heart of Kabul. The building is the only one to have been hit so it looks like it was deliberate.” The station’s managing director, Mohammed Jassim al-Ali, said that the US had been previously informed of al-Jazeer location.

Al-Jazeera has earned the enmity of Washington for its critical coverage of the US war in Afghanistan, and particularly by broadcasting interviews with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders. Because of their impact on public opinion in Muslim countries, the Western media and politicians had warned that the US was in danger of losing the propaganda war. It seems that the US decided the best way to win the battle for hearts and minds was to take out its critics.

Destroying the al-Jazeera office before the Northern Alliance occupied Kabul ensured that whatever massacres and reprisals took place are less likely to be reported. Following the bombing, the station’s Kabul correspondent Tasir Alouni – who has become world famous for fronting reports showing the devastation caused by the US bombing of the Afghan capital – was seized and assaulted by incoming Northern Alliance forces. He was only released after the intervention of Paktia tribal groups. Alouni was so traumatised by his experiences that he said later he had witnessed, “scenes that, I’m sorry, I couldn’t describe to anybody”. Broadcasting later from eastern Afghanistan, he described his condition as one of “deep psychological shock.”

The bombing of the Kabul office is not the only attempt undertaken by Washington to disrupt al-Jazeer newsgathering and reporting.

On November 14, the station’s Washington correspondent, Mohammad al-Alami, was detained at Waco airport during his efforts to cover the summit meeting between George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Al-Alami described how credit card details used to buy the plane ticket to Waco were traced to transactions in Afghanistan. When Al-Alami tried to leave Waco airport, police armed with M-16 rifles detained him, although he was later released.

The US has issued contradictory explanations of the al-Jazeera bombing. At a November 14 defence department news conference, Rear Admiral Craig R. Quigley told an al-Jazeera journalist that the bombing was a “mistake? because “a weapon went awry”. Challenged as to whether the US had information regarding the location of al-Jazeera, BBC and Associated Press facilities in Kabul, Quigley replied evasively, “I don’t know that we do.” Colonel Rick Thomas, speaking to CBS for US Central Command, insisted that the building was “a known al Qaida facility in central Kabul… We had no indications this or any nearby facility was used by al-Jazeera. We had identified two locations in Kabul where al-Jazeera people worked, and this location wasn’t among them.”

On November 17, al-Jazeer chief of Arab language broadcasting, Ibrahim Hilal, again accused the US of deliberately targeting their Kabul office. Hilal said that the station had been on a list of US targets ever since the start of the bombing campaign, and that transmissions between Kabul and the station’s headquarters in the tiny Middle Eastern emirate of Qatar were routinely monitored by US intelligence.

Suggestions that part of US war policy was to deliberately target news organisations drew attention from the Newsworld conference of media executives, meeting recently in Barcelona. Reflecting the broad concerns amongst journalists, BBC World correspondent Nik Gowing told the conference, “It seems to me there is some evidence to be put to the Pentagon about the targeting of news organisations… It seems people uplinking journalistic material [by satellite] can be targeted legitimately.” Gowing noted, “al-Jazeera has been providing some material that has been very uncomfortable.” Gowing also compared the attack on al-Jazeera to the US bombing of Serbian TV in Belgrade in 1999.

Speaking for the US military, Colonel Hoey reiterated Rear Admiral Quiglex’s line to the Barcelona conference that US forces did not have the location co-ordinates of the al-Jazeera offices, and that, in any case, “The US military does not and will not target media. We would not, as a policy, target news media organisations?it would not even begin to make sense.”

But, as Gowing’s comments indicate, the bombing of al-Jazeera is not the first time that the US has bombed a TV station that has broadcast reports contradicting official Pentagon propaganda about “targeted actions” and “limited collateral damage.”

On April 23 1999, at the height of a NATO bombing of Belgrade, US cruise missiles destroyed the headquarters of Radio Television Serbia (RTS). Thirteen journalists and staff were killed and many more were injured. RTS, a network employing 7,000 people, and the largest TV station in the Balkans, had been providing footage and rebroadcast facilities to international news organisations, ensuring the world’s population had at least some inkling of what was being done to the Serbian people. The attack followed weeks in which all the TV transmitters and private TV facilities in Serbia had been destroyed, and after an ultimatum from NATO Air Commander David Wilby demanding airtime to put NATO?s case to RTS viewers. RTS and the Belgrade government of Slobodan Milosevic had apparently agreed to broadcast six hours of NATO propaganda, in return for six minutes of Yugoslav news on European and US networks. NATO bombed RTS anyway, with US General Wesley Clarke overruling objections from other NATO governments.

Al-Jazeera has for some years figured in Washington’s calculations in the Middle East and has become a target for US ire because of its reputation for independent and comprehensive coverage of Middle Eastern politics. Since its foundation in 1996, al-Jazeera has won a large audience across North Africa and the Middle East, and has antagonised political leaders from Algeria to Saudi Arabia.

The station generally advances a pan-Arab nationalist political line and is used by the Qatar government as an occasional instrument of policy. However, the station claims to employ staff from a wide range of political backgrounds, and its most popular programmes are political debates and talk shows which explore the most controversial issues in Middle Eastern politics?allowing open debate between Islamic fundamentalists, liberals, supporters and opponents of the Middle Eastern peace process. The Jerusalem Post estimates 40 percent of residents in the Gaza Strip watch al-Jazeera, because the station regularly exposes human rights abuses, shows live footage of riots, discusses women’s rights under Islam, and criticises government parties in a region where the broadcast media is largely under state control.

Last year, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted the growing impact of satellite TV in the region: “From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, Arab governments are worried they have lost control of information, one of the key means they have used to stay in power in the past. Diplomats in the region have dubbed the phenomenon “the al-Jazeera effect”.”

In early October, US Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the Emir of Qatar, who partly finances the station, to rein in its editorial line. Al-Jazeera responded by publishing the request.

IFJ Welcomes Court Verdict in RTS Bombing Case

IFJ Welcomes Court Verdict in RTS Bombing Case


The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation today welcomed the Serbian court's sentencing of the former head of state television to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate staff before a NATO missile strike which killed 16 people in 1999.

Dragoljub Milanovic, a close ally of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, had caused "grave danger to public security" by failing to evacuate the Belgrade headquarters of Radio-Television Serbia (RTS), the court ruled. The television building was hit in a NATO missile strike on 23 April, 1999, part of NATO's 11-week air campaign to force an end to the Serbian crackdown in Kosovo.

The Belgrade court found that Milanovic did not give the order to evacuate media staff. "This verdict at least penalizes one of those responsible for this appalling incident", said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "We know that warnings were given and that they were blatantly and recklessly ignored at the cost of the lives of media workers."

NATO insisted that the TV building was a legitimate military target because it was a "propaganda mouthpiece" for the Milosevic regime. The IFJ calls on NATO to investigate its own responsibility in the 23 April 1999 air strike. At the time, the IFJ repeatedly called on NATO to refrain from targeting media. "Time has taught us that the NATO strike has set a worldwide example amongst armed forces that it is acceptable to target media, especially public media, during the initial stages of conflict," said the IFJ. Recent examples include the targeting of media in the Jammu and Kashmir conflict, the targeting of Israeli Defence Forces of Palestinian broadcast facilities, and a US strike on the offices of the Arab satellite TV Al Jazeera in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sixteen employees of RTS, mostly young people, died when a single NATO rocket hit the building in downtown Belgrade. The hit remains one of the most controversial events in the 11 weeks of NATO air raids against Serbia in 1999.

Exhausted by their efforts to prove that Milanovic was guilty for the deaths of their relatives, the families cried silently as the sentence was pronounced. The women wore traditional black mourning clothes, and the faces of the fathers and brothers were grim.

The victims of the NATO bombing of Radio Television Serbia were: Tomislav Mitrovic, Ivana Stukalo, Slavisa Stevanovic, Ksenija Bankovic, Jelica Munitlak, Milovan Jankovic, Dragan Tasic, Aleksandar Deletic, Darko Stoimenovski, Nebojsa Stojanovic, Slobodan Jontic, Dejan Markovic, Milan Joksimovic, Branislav Jovanovic, Sinisa Medic, Dragorad Dragojevic

RTS Bombing Case Opened at Human Rights Tribunal

REPORT: RTS Bombing Case Opened

Relatives of media workers killed in the NATO attack on Radio Television Serbia, along with one survivor, bring a case before the European human rights court.

By Marjorie Farquharson in Strasbourg (TU No. 244, November 12-17, 2001)

The world is consumed with the effort to obtain justice for office workers in New York City whose building was destroyed in September while they went about their lawful business. On October 24, five families and one survivor brought a landmark case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, seeking redress for office workers, employees of Radio Television Serbia, who were killed or injured when NATO bombed their building at the height of the 1999 Kosovo campaign.

On the very day that NATO was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, the applicants or their relatives were working in one of the production centers of RTS on Takovska Street in central Belgrade. The premises were shared during the NATO campaign by numerous foreign broadcasting companies, including the BBC, CNN and Reuters.

At 2:03 AM on April 23, the building was hit by an air-launched cruise missile. Two of the four floors collapsed, and the master control room was destroyed. Sixteen people – technicians, a make-up assistant and others – were killed, and one, Dragan Sukovic, was injured. RTS stopped broadcasting for five hours, and then resumed transmitting via its main distribution center in Kosutnjak, outside Belgrade.

Later that day, at the anniversary meeting, a NATO spokesperson stated, "Strikes against TV transmitters and broadcast facilities are part of our campaign to dismantle the FRY propaganda machinery, which is a vital part of Milosevic's control mechanism". No foreign journalists were in the building on the night of the attack, and the complainants argue that there is compelling evidence that the former were warned of the bombing.

The complainants, one survivor and relatives of killed staff, all citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, claim that their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights to life, freedom of expression and effective judicial remedy (Articles 2, 10 and 13) were violated by the NATO action.

The October hearing in the case, Bankovic and others v. NATO, concerned the admissibility of the case before the European court and whether the 17 NATO member states named have a case to answer. The charges are brought against those member states which are also parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, which means all NATO members except Canada and the United States. A decision on the admissibility of the case could be handed down in November, and if it is established, without a second hearing any decision on the merits could be announced by the end of the year.

If the court decides on the merits, they could give compensation and pass a general measure to prevent similar human rights violations in the future.

The case could set a number of important precedents for the human rights court. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is not a member of the Council of Europe, and therefore not a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. The applicants have brought their case on the grounds that any state that is a party – such as the 17 states named – is obliged to guarantee those rights on any territory under its jurisdiction.

Representing the 17 NATO states, the UK's Martin Eaton argued that the incident took place beyond the borders of any NATO country – and thus that it is not covered by the terms of the human rights convention. The applicants asserted that, at the time of the attack, these NATO members exercised effective control over Yugoslav airspace and therefore remained responsible. The main question facing the court is therefore whether effective control of the sky put Yugoslav territory under the jurisdiction of the 17 NATO states?

Multi-national organisations can be a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. But since the United States and Canada, NATO members, are not in Europe, the military alliance itself cannot be a party to the convention. But the complainants argue that NATO's decision-making process means that each member state retains complete sovereignty and responsibility for its own decisions. They claim that the actions of NATO forces can therefore be imputed to the governments of the member states.

The convention does offer states an escape clause from its obligations. In times of war or public emergency, states can lodge a derogation under Article 15 seeking exemption from specific obligations, which they must name. In the case of the attack on RTS, no NATO member state had done so. Even if they had, the complainants argue that Article 15 is inapplicable, as the war in question did not threaten the life of any NATO member state.

The complainants further argue that RTS did not constitute a military objective within the meaning of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Protocols of 1977. NATO forces never suggested that the station was used to relay military communications and its destruction did not offer NATO any military advantage.

Under the terms of the convention, governments have some freedom in interpreting the right to life and freedom of expression, provided they can demonstrate that any restrictions are "lawful, proportionate and necessary in a democratic society". If the case goes forward, the court would have to decide if the bombing met these requirements.

The applicants argue that it did not, because the RTS staff and their broadcasts did not pose a threat of unlawful violence to the Kosovo Albanians; as such, destroying the station was not necessary, let alone strictly proportionate, to NATO's stated military aim.

In view of the risk of civilian casualties, under Article 57 of Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions, NATO states should have expressly warned those in charge of the station. The absence of foreign journalists suggests that they were warned, while local staff were not. NATO sources subsequently insisted that Belgrade authorities were also warned, but that these warnings were not passed on to staff in the building. (In a separate proceeding in a Belgrade court, the RTS station director is accused for not passing on this warning.)

The net result of the bombing was to block transmission for only five hours at the cost of a significant number of employees' lives. The applicants contend that this outcome could have been achieved more effectively by other, more proportionate, means.

Furthermore, the employees were killed not only while they were exercising their democratic right to impart information under Article 10, but were targeted specifically for doing so. In previous cases, the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that journalists merit special protection – regardless of the quality of their journalism – because of the importance of free expression to a democratic society.

To the applicants' knowledge, no investigation into the destruction of the RTS building has been carried out by the 17 NATO states named in the case, depriving them of any means to challenge the assumption that the building was a "lawful target". For this reason, they assert under Article 13 that they have been denied an effective legal remedy.

In legal terms, the case demonstrates the remarkable scope of the European convention as a mechanism for enforcing human rights, potentially ruling on a case even though two principal entities – NATO and Yugoslavia – are not parties to it. The case will be watched carefully in the Russian Federation, which is a Council of Europe member but was opposed to the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Coming before the court when the 19 NATO allies have bombed civilian targets in Afghanistan, another non-member state of the Council of Europe, the case could resonate well beyond Europe.

Marjorie Farquharson was an assistant to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia Tadeusz Mazowiecki in 1993.

Nato challenged over Belgrade bombing

Nato challenged over Belgrade bombing

BBC 24 October, 2001

The European Court of Human Rights has begun deciding whether Nato should face trial for bombing Belgrade's main TV station during the Kosovo conflict.

Six people have brought a case on behalf of the station's employees, saying the attack, which killed 16 people, was in breach of Europe's human rights charter.

They say the air strikes were illegal under the charter, which governs the right to life and freedom of expression. They are asking for compensation.

The hearing is only the first step to determine if the European Court of Human Rights has the jurisdiction even to hear the case.

Propaganda war

On the night of 23 April 1999, Nato aircraft attacked the government-run studios of Radio Television Serbia (RTS) in Belgrade, in which those killed, most of them production workers, had been ordered to report for work.

The attack was part of Nato's air campaign to force the Yugoslav Government of former President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw its forces from Kosovo.


At the time, Nato defended the air strike by saying the TV station was a legitimate target because of its role in what Nato called Belgrade's campaign of propaganda.

The applicants to the Court of Human Rights argue that the individual Nato member states are responsible for the bombing, even though it was carried out by Nato forces.

They are suing the European members of Nato – but not the United States and Canada – for compensation.

Lawyers for the Nato states, which have denied the charges, say that because the former Yugoslavia was not a signatory to the European Charter of Human Rights, the court cannot hear the case.

If the states are found responsible, the survivor and families could be awarded damages.

A judgement is due in several weeks.

Countries accused
Czech Republic
The Netherlands
United Kingdom

Serbian boy
Civilian casualties proved a propaganda nightmare for Nato


When its OK to kill journalists

When its OK to kill a hack
By Charles Glass

The Spectator, 5 February 2000

It’s official. Thirty-three journalists died violently in war zones last year. The figure – nine up on the year before – has just been released by the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists. Sierra Leone was the most dangerous destination in 1999: ten reporters were killed there last year. Next on the list was Serbia, where six reporters lost their lives; then came Colombia, with four deaths. The CPJ concludes, “We see a clear policy, particularly in Sierra Leone, Colombia and East Timor, of armed factions seeking to banish journalists in order to hide the truth.’

Two can play at hiding the truth. Siddharth Varadarajan, senior assistant editor of the Times of India, noticed that the CPJ had not included in its list the 16 journalists and support staff killed by Nato’s bombing of the RTS (Radio-Television Serbia) studios in Belgrade in April last year. Varadarajan emailed the CPJ to get an explanation for this “glaring? omission. Judy Blank, communications director of the committee, replied that the 16 had been deliberately left off the list. She said that the CPJ condemned the attack on the RTS studios as a threat to all journalists covering the Yugoslavia conflict, but shared Nato’s view that RTS was a medium not of information but of propaganda. Therefore, its staff did not qualify as journalists under the committee’s “extremely broad definition”.

On 8 April 1999 Air Commodore David Wilby explained Nato’s position to Western correspondents: “Serb radio is an instrument of propaganda and repression. It has filled the airwaves with hate and lies over the years, and especially now. It is therefore a legitimate target in this campaign.” (If lying were a capital crime, few journalists, politicians or military spokesmen anywhere would survive.) Nato’s Supreme Commander, General Wesley Clark, shared Wilbx’s view, calling RTS “an instrument of propaganda and repression of the Milosevic government”. It is unlikely that either Wilby or Clark understands a word of Serbo-Croat or has watched any RTS programmes, but let us concede that there must have been an element of anti-Nato propaganda in RTS broadcasts. It would have been odd indeed if the journalists at the station had not been hostile to a military alliance that was threatening to bomb their country unless their leader signed an accord to permit the alliance’s troops to occupy it. There is only so much “balance” thate can expect from anyone. How many Nato journalists were pro-Milosevic?

Nato bombed the television station on 21 April, killing the 16 Yugoslavs. Yet not one of the Western correspondents, producers and technicians who had been using the RTS satellite-transmission facilities was so much as scratched. The Pentagon and other ministries of defence had warned the Western television companies to tell their people in Belgrade to stay away. No one told the Yugoslavs, who Nato and the CPJ insist were not worthy of the title journalist”. (The Pentagon began giving advance notice of its bombings in 1985, when it told us American hacks in Tripoli to prepare ourselves for a raid that night. It was not concern for our safety so much as a desire that we should all be awake to go live with eyewitness accounts of a nighttime son et lumiere show that left 40 or more Libyan civilians dead. It was, the reviewers agreed, great television.)

Nato’s novel doctrine that a propaganda medium is a legitimate military target takes war into new realms. What about art galleries that display propaganda posters? Or cinemas playing propaganda films? Or music halls playing patriotic music? Streetcorner orators singing the praises of the dictator? Writers in libraries penning anti-Nato diatribes to be circulated samizdat-fashion from hand to hand? Legitimate targets all?

In her email reply to Siddharth Varadarajan, Judy Blank justified the CPJ’s definition of the RTS personnel as non-journalists in this way: “We defend all journalists regardless of the views they express. But our independent analysis of what was broadcast on RTS, particularly prior to the Nato bombing campaign, leads us to the conclusion that by any definition it would not be considered journalism.” Varadarajan said he found her rationale “unconvincing and highly disconcerting”. He thought it dangerous for the CPJ to decide “what is or is not journalism. Many Yugoslavs believe that what CNN dished out during the war was pure propaganda. But that would not have justified any of them beating up or killing a CNN journalist.” (Quite right. I’ve become a part-time CNN journalist myself, and I hate it when Serbs beat me up.) Moscow, too, has strong feelings about when a journalist is not a journalist. As Varadarajan pointed out, “The Russians don’t believe Chechen journalists are journalists but terrorist bandits.’

Interestingly, the CPJ report recognised that the three Chinese who died in the Nato bombardment of their embassy on 8 May were journalists. If the CPJ thinks RTS is a propaganda institution, its officials should read the Guangming Daily. Or let Nato read it. Judy Blank’s last email to Varadarajan promised a full report on the RTS bombing, and added, “For me to try to go into these issues now, before the report is complete, would, I fear, be to give them short shrift. Please understand that CPJ wrestled long and hard with the situation.’

When the committee was established in 1981, its goal was to “monitor abuses against the press and promote press freedom around the world”. One of its first achievements was to assist in the release of three British journalists, Ian Mather, Tony Prime and Simon Winchester, from detention in Argentina during the Falklands war in 1982. The Committee has area specialists, much like Amnesty International, who watch for suppression of the press around the world, except in the United States. Press freedom is apparently so secure in the CPJ homeland that America, uniquely, does not need a committee to protect journalists. One of the proud boasts in CPJ literature is that it “accepts no government funding”. Governments are the enemies of a free press. Governments arrest and torture journalists. Governments close newspapers. Governments censor television news reports. Corporations, from which the CPJ does solicit funds, apparently do not. On its board are employees of the major American media companies, some of them owned by larger conglomerates with interests well outside the news business.

CPJ accepts funds from the networks, including Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News which in December 1997 fired two television journalists, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson. Akre and Wilson are suing Fox?s Tampa station, Channel 13 WTVT, for dismissing them when they sought to inform the Federal Communications Commission what the station was doing about a report they had prepared on synthetic hormones in Florid milk supply. According to the two journalists, Fox 13 did not want to be seen killing the story. “Instead,” they explained in a legal complaint, “we were repeatedly ordered to go forward and broadcast demonstrably inaccurate and dishone~st versions of the story. We were given those instructions after some very high-level corporate lobbying by Monsanto [the powerful drug company that makes the hormone] and also, we believe, by members of Florid dairy and grocery industries.’

The December issue of the Communicator, the magazine of the Radio and Television News Directors? Association (RTNDA) in the USA, reports that corporate propaganda increasingly masquerades as news. WDSI Television in Chattanooga, Tennessee, announced it would run positive news pieces about any company that paid it $15,000. Ivanhoe Broadcast News prepares medical news “reports” that are broadcast as television news to publicise its clients private hospitals that choose stories and provide employees as pundits. One local newsreader, Carol Martin of WMAQ in Chicago, was suspended from her job when she refused to do voice-overs for pieces favourable to advertisers. When the RTNDA polled 1,007 American television viewers in 1998, 84 per cent believed that advertisers influenced news content. A former Cincinnati news director, Stuart Zanger, told the Communicator, inside the TV stations is a desperation I?ve never seen before.” He said that shareholders seeking a 35 per cent return on their investment were “holding you to the same standards as an Exxon or Microsoft. They don’t care that one of your principles is to uphold democracy.’

Upholding democracy sounds like a propaganda aim – unlike making money, which is what journalism must be for.