Copyrighted material

How American PR Demonized the Serbs

by Peter Phillips

on Kosovo war propaganda
A major news story about Serbia, not covered in the American press, was published in Covert Action Quarterly (CAQ) last Fall. The story detailed how a famous photo from 1992 in Omarska, Bosnia showing an alleged Serbian death camp was in fact a phony. The original photo, taken by Independent Television (ITN) from Great Britain, showed an emaciated Muslim man with his shirt off behind barbwire with his imprisoned comrades behind him. This photo ran worldwide and was just used again June 14th by Time magazine. It was the first significant emotional presentation of the Serbian military as nazi-like thugs. Presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, making reference to the photo promised military action against the Serbs if elected.

According to CAQ, that photo was a gross misrepresentation of the situation. The men in the picture were not behind barbwire, but rather were standing outside of a small fenced enclosure next to a farm house in an open field that had been serving as a refugee transit site. The photographers shot the photo from within the fenced enclosure looking out on a open field. The Hague Tribunal confirmed in 1994 that there was no barbwire surrounding the camp at Omarska in 1992.

So how has a phony photo of alleged Serbian death camp continued to be used to portray the Serbian government as an holocaust perpetrator in Kosovo? One part of the answer is that the American public relations firm Ruder Finn was originally hired by the Croatian sessionists, Bosnian Muslins and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to foster negative images of the Serbs as nazi demons. Ruder Finn targeted American women and Jews with the promotion of often unconfirmed news stories of Serbian rape/death camps, and various human atrocities. News stories showing attacks and ethnic cleansing of Serbs were often repressed or undercovered. The result was that the American public has been lead to believe that the Serbs are the vicious aggressors in the Balkans and the other parties innocent victims. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The KLA alone was listed by the U.S. State department as a terrorist organization until just last year. They had been conducting bombings, assassinations, ambushes, (financed by heroin sales) on both Albanians moderates and Serbs in Kosovo for several years, increasing their attacks 1000 percent in 1998. Serbian police responses were often brutal especially in the villages from which the KLA was known to operate. Yet, last year only 2,000 deaths occurred on both sides in all of Kosovo. 2,000 deaths was not an ethnic cleansing campaign by Serbs to kill Albanians but rather part of a measured response to ongoing terrorist activities by a legitimate government.

American media has been so accepting of demonized-the-Serb stories that there was no questioning of the news story last January of the alleged Serbian massacre at Racak where some 40 Kosovo Albanians were said to have be gunned down by Serb police. Found by the "neutral" former Oliver North aide, William Walker, the bodies were a perfect photo opportunity to justify increased NATO demands for direct intervention and the bombings. Yet, there was a complete failure of the American press to cover the European Union's forensic team's report in March 17th stating that they were unable to confirm that a massacre had occurred, and that it was possible that the bodies had been moved to that location after death.

The American press has been filled with daily reports of mass graves and torture sites in Kosovo. Yet, a recent story of a KLA torture chamber found by German NATO troops received scant attention in the press. Perhaps if the Serbs buried the 2,000 plus civilian victims of NATO's bombing campaign in a single mass grave the U.S. press might pay more attention to both sides of the story instead of serving as a NATO disinformation distribution service.

Peter Phillips Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor June 23, 1999 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.