and the Media
Ask the average Macedonian if the Western media has a certain perception about Macedonia and its people. The answer is a resounding yes- and the perception is negative.
The feeling is not hard to understand. For Macedonians who see what is happening in their own country, and read about it in their own language, it is baffling to imagine why the rest of the world often takes an opposite view of the same situations. And that is where frustration and disbelief set in, often boiling over to the point where the foreigners begin to view Macedonians as inherently hostile and belligerent. Anyone who knows better would not normally assign these qualities to the Macedonian character.
The fatal assumption on the part of the Macedonians is, all too often, the belief that foreign readers are getting the same news as they are- just in a different language. Therefore, if some destructive act takes place, and the Macedonians see it on TV, they assume it is also appearing on Western TV sets. In doing so, they make a dangerous leap of judgement.
This is because oftentimes, the news Macedonians see differs from that shown in the outside world. There are many reasons for this divergence, including limited resources and limited space in publications, and the fact that editors often have to abridge or edit their news sections in the interests of their advertisers.
Another reason is the politicization of both the Macedonian and the foreign media. Macedonians often trust neither, believing both to be driven by interests that are not their own. The reaction to both of these media, however, differs. Domestic, inter-Macedonian dissent inspires either insular accusations or a mood of hopeless indifference; foreign media opposition, on the other hand, inspires something very rare in Macedonia- a united front. Yet it has been this very united front that has convinced Western journalists about Macedonian hostility.
In Macedonia, the most common complaint is that the foreign media is involved with the country only insofar as it is a tool for Albanian propaganda. In general, they have a point. The coverage in 2001 of the Macedonian crisis was generally one-sided, referring to the NLA as "ethnic rebels," not as "terrorists" (as the Macedonians called them). Perhaps it was less work for journalists to resurrect the old story from Kosovo, and present ethnic Albanians as being "oppressed" by their Slavic overlords. In any case, the Macedonians lost the moral high ground as the crisis progressed, and the Albanians became more confident that, with the right PR, they would prevail.
According to Macedonian government spokesman Georgi Triantafilovski, the NLA worked with a well-designed media plan in mind: "whenever our forces would engage them, the (Albanian) commanders would immediately pick up their mobile phones and call everyone, the BBC, CNN, and all the others." This plan worked so well that by mid-summer, foreign journalists were eagerly seeking out Albanian warlords in their embattled mountain enclaves. Perhaps they came just for a Hemingway-esque thrill of combat; some suspect more insidious motives.
Dragan Stefanovski, editor-in-chief of KISS TV in Tetovo, is one. During 2001, many foreign journalists called in on his station to get closer to the action. The station was almost too close to the action, however, suffering gun and mortar attacks from the NLA which left significant damage in one of the walls of the studio. On top of that, the stationís director was briefly kidnapped by the Albanians. It is Stefanovoskiís belief that some journalists, or even entire organizations, were paid off by the NLA in order to influence their reporting. He did not mention any names to me, but he did mention several journalists who became very unpopular in Macedonia. Nick Wood of the BBC, for example, inspired enough protests by Spring 2001 to warrant his recall. Government sources maintain that Wood was once "saved" from Albanian commanders by Macedonian security forces, though exactly how or why was not disclosed.
Manipulation and falsification of photographic evidence was also cited. Government sources mentioned an episode where CNN sent a camera crew to Gazi Baba, an Albanian section of Skopje. "There they found some children playing in front of the house, and since the children were curious of the foreigners and their cameras, they rushed up to the fence. Next thing you know, we have a picture of children "imprisoned" behind the fence of an "interment camp."
Emil Atanasovski is a young man who works for the National Democratic Forum, a group for democratic change and a subsidiary of the National Democratic Institute. Despite being so connected with the epicenter of US foreign policy, Atanasovski can still point out irregularities in Western media. He claims that the BBC "recycled" a photograph during the mid-summer Battle of Aracinovo. "One photo said ĎMacedonian army attacks,í and showed a picture of a Russian-made T-82 tank. Our army doesnít have T-82 tanks, we have T-55ís! But what does the viewer know? This was old footage from Kosovo. Of course, our government did not do anything about it."
Atanasovskiís conclusion was succinct, and it can be applied to Macedoniaís situation in general.
"We lost the war because we lost the media, even though we had all the arguments on our side to show otherwise."
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
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