International Journalists Protest NATO Attack

BRUSSELS: (South News) April 23 - The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the NATO bombing of Serbian state television as "a broken promise that threatens the lives of all journalists and media staffs."

``This bomb attack seems to make a very clear statement that civilian and particularly media targets are legitimate,'' IFJ General-Secretary Aidan White told a news conference. ``We need more solidarity with these journalists, not actions which mean they will be put more in the firing line,'' White said.

"Killing journalists and media staff never wins wars or builds democracy, it only reinforces ignorance, censorship and fear," said Aidan White.The Brussels-based IFJ is a federation of journalism unions representing about 450,000 journalists around the world.
Foreign press correspondents sign a petition 
protesting the NATO strike of the Yugoslav 
state television headquarters building Friday, 
April 23, 1999 at a hotel in Belgrade. 
The IFJ condemned NATO’s action in particular as a "broken promise" following a written commitment from NATO spokesman Jamie Shea ten days ago to avoid civilian casualties, including journalists. NATO told the IFJ there was no policy to strike television and radio transmitters as such. The IFJ further wrote to Javier Solana two days ago calling on NATO to stick to its promise not to target media after attacks on media close to the Milosevic family. This appeal was supported by more than 20 freedom of expression groups world-wide.

The Serbian state television building in Belgrade was bombed by NATO Thursday night, killing 10 people and causing 18 injuries, according to Yugoslav sources several journalists, a make-up artist and an electrician were among the dead.

NATO'S missile strike on RTS television has claimed more civilian lives than any other hit on Belgrade since the conflict began. Shocked staff wept and held each other on the footpath outside the station, waiting for rescue workers to dig bodies and survivors out of the rubble.

NATO argues Serbian television is a legitimate military target because it spreads ``propaganda'' about the Western air campaign. but drew protests from journalists around the world..

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was "deeply disturbed" by the bombing of the Belgrade facility, which killed 10 people and injured at least 20.

``NATO's decision to target civilian broadcast facilities puts all the journalists working in Yugoslavia at risk,'' said the group's director for Eastern Europe, Chrystyna Lapychak. ``While we understand NATO's concern for propaganda, bombing the station is not the way to counter propaganda.''

"This could permanently jeopardize journalists covering conflicts all over the world," Lapychak said in an interview. "Under the Geneva Convention, journalists are supposed to be noncombatants." Lapychak also called the bombing "frightening to us as journalists."

Alexandre Levy, a spokesman for Paris-based Reporters without Borders, said the bombing ``creates a very dangerous precedent for press freedom'' and might put foreign journalists' lives in danger in Yugoslavia.

The television center in Belgrade had been used to transmit news reports by international as well as local media, and many independent transmissions from foreign news crews had been sent from the building. An organization of European national broadcasters that had used those transmission facilities expressed concern about the attack.

``We do not see how the suppression of news sources can serve any useful purpose,'' said Albert Scharf, president of the European Broadcasting Union. "Over and beyond the deaths involved, the EBU is concerned about any attempt to limit the rights of audiences to full news services, whether through censorship, distortion of news or destruction of the means of exchange news".

The EBU links 68 public broadcasting services in 49 countries. It supervises news programmes transmitted via the Eurovision and Euroradio networks. Mr Scharf says Belgrade television had transmitted reports by international media as well as local news coverage.

In Rome, the Italian journalists' union condemned the act as "useless brutality," and Italian TV staff based in Belgrade expressed solidarity with their Yugoslav colleagues.

Defence expert Paul Beaver from Jane's Group in London said he found the attack "shocking" and difficult to understand. "What if western journalists were feeding information through tapes there at the time? We could have had western casualties," Mr Beaver said. "I think this will be difficult for NATO to justify."

Some of the harshest criticism of the attack, outside of Yugoslavia, came from Russia, which strongly opposes the entire NATO campaign. Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of the Union of Russian Journalists, called the raid ``an act of vandalism'' aimed directly at civilian journalists.

``Today's act means the war has spread to another level, when attempts are being made to crush freedom of speech,'' Yakovenko told the ITAR-Tass news agency. .

CNN and the U.S. broadcast networks, which had been feeding videotape from the building, abandoned it after receiving private warnings from senior White House and Pentagon officials that NATO would soon hit the facility.