Saturday, June 08, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [10]

Chapter 8: War, Oslobodjenje, and Democracy
Oslobodjenje's record as a staunch defender of independent journalism and a free press during the fall of the Communist regime and one-party rule was truly inspirational, and earned the paper plenty of international plaudits. Its record during the war was decidedly more mixed.

By Spring 193, Bosnia was fighting for its life while the international community did little more than wait for its government to accept ethnic partition as the price of peace. In this environment, the staff--who had come of age personally and professionally under Communism, when the role of the press was to faithfully "report" the party line--found themselves torn between their professional, civic, and patriotic duties. The compromises weren't always neatly defined, and they were often quite understandable given the circumstances, but they were compromises all the same, and the idealism the paper inspired in the early days became quite tempered and muted, if never completely muzzled.

While the paper no longer followed an official party line handed down from the state, old habits of following some overriding editorial approach died hard. Many members of the staff expected the editorial board to set a "party line" for the newspaper to follow. And in effect, this happened to large degree--as the war progressed, it became more and more evident that unlike some other independent media outlets in Sarajevo, Oslobodjenje was not inclined to criticize the government or even to report news which might undermine the war effort. Even when a couple of reporters from the paper were forced under threats to spend several days digging front-line trenches under the orders of some of the gangsters-turned-military leaders who operated as de facto warlords in their parts of Sarajevo. These gangsters were abusing the rights and freedom of Sarajevo residents and lining their pockets with extortion and the control of the black market; but still, Oslobodjenje said nothing.

At the same time, the paper was not the official organ of the government, and often found itself getting the cold shoulder for refusing to completely report the "news" the way the SDA-led government would have preferred. This left the paper in a no man's land where it was simultaneously punished for the very independence it was often criticized for not having enough of.

Some staff members were torn; others, accustomed to life under Communism, saw nothing wrong. Gordana Knezevic was unapologetic for putting patriotism ahead of professional ethics. The Bosnian state had to be saved; that was more important than doing first-rate journalism. As a Serb, she had an existential reason for saving multi-ethnic Bosnia. As a mother who had sent her children away, she had a personal one--she wanted there to be a country for them to be from, even if she ended up being buried there.

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