Traditional diplomacy has ignored the power of the media to exacerbate conflict. But a new sort of diplomacy is taking shape which is trying to harness it to the cause of peacemaking. Michael Maclay recounts lessons learnt during the efforts to rebuild a liberal television culture in Bosniaby Michael Maclay / November 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
There was one gaping hole in the Dayton agreement which ended the Bosnian war in 1995: media. There was a long military annex. There were annexes on elections, refugees and human rights. There was even an annex on national monuments. But for an international treaty drawn up under enormous pressure from the media in what is supposedly the age of CNN diplomacy, the lack of attention to media seems an odd omission.
There was much else one could criticise in the hastily drafted agreement, notably the gap between the goals it sketched out and the means it provided for achieving them. But as a blunt tool to end the war through intervention by foreign troops and then to hand back responsibility for making peace to the Bosnians, Dayton was not bad. The agreement made peace possible although certainly not inevitable.
But it was an agreement of traditional diplomacy, drafted by outsiders who did not understand-or could not address-the huge role which newspapers, radio and, most significant, television had played in creating war in the first place. Much of the period since Dayton was signed has been spent trying to write that media annex into the agreement retrospectively. The fact that Nato troops are now taking possession of television stations-with their return conditional on editorial performance-shows how far we have come. And the international community’s political representative in Bosnia-the Office of the High Representative (OHR)-has created a revolution in international mediation by setting up a national television network and supplying political programming to state broadcasters.
At the time of Dayton, many journalists saw the urgent need to cajole the media into serving as an instrument of reconciliation and peace rather than of prejudice and division. They were perhaps more acutely aware than the negotiators of how at every turn in the spiral of collapse in ex-Yugoslavia, the media had nudged the constituent peoples towards mutual distrust and eventually hatred. From the late 1980s, when Slobodan Milosevic consolidated his power base by stirring up the Serbs against the people of Kosovo, state television became his most potent weapon. Franjo Tudjman in Croatia inspired a similar media campaign of intolerance, initially against the Serbs and later against the Muslims.
In Bosnia itself more than anywhere in Yugoslavia, the media had been liberal and multicultural, reflecting the cosmopolitan character of Sarajevo. But Bosnia, too, succumbed. Partly this was because, away from the urban…