Today marks 16 years since US-led NATO coalition struck Serbian state television – Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS), murdering 16 of its employees. There was 16 employees and staff who were brutally massacred one night. Someone somewhere decided that those people had to die. Nineteen more were wounded.
The morning after… NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters resulted in the killing of 16 employees, wounding 19
In mid-April, NATO Air Commander, David Wilby, announced that NATO was sick of the Serb ‘propaganda’ televised to every household and warned that unless Serb Television broadcast three hours of US programming in the daytime and another three hours in the evening, the TV station would be blown-up. Even pro-war TV reporters phrased the announcement as an outlandish question. The idea didn’t go over. When Belgrade offered to accept the six hours in exchange for six minutes of Yugoslav news on Western networks, NATO backtracked, saying it had only meant it would bomb transmitters also used for military communications. NATO also explicitly assured the International Federation of Journalists it would not target media workers.5 Even so, against the wishes of other NATO leaders, General Wesley Clark gave orders to bomb.
In the early morning hours of April 23, as RTS was airing a taped American interview with President Milosevic and former Pentagon official turned KHOU-TV defence analysts, Ron Hatchett, there was a thunderous explosion as cruise missiles slammed into the building causing a mile-high cloud of dust.
What had been the four-story headquarters of Serbian TV was turned into a 15-foot pile of cement, plastic, iron, and the dead and wounded. Among the dead were two men hanging upside-down from the wreckage. A young woman technician was burned alive in the make-up room.
A young man could only be extracted from the tons of wreckage by amputating both of his legs. He died.
Thirteen other technicians and secretaries working the night shift were killed in their studios and taping rooms, or died in the hospital. At dawn, a group of several hundred Yugoslav citizens stood silently bearing witness in front of the smouldering wreckage, at a loss for words.
Six hours later the U.K. Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, said RTS was a “legitimate target” a “propaganda machine” and “causing untold suffering to the people of Kosovo”. In England Tony Blair said the attack was “entirely justified,” ( Serb TV station was a legitimate target, Guardian, 24 April 1999 issue), and went on to assert that television is part of the apparatus which keeps a political leader in power, so camera operators, make-up ladies and janitors are therefore legitimate targets.
NATO terrorist attack on Radio-television of Serbia, April 1999.
RTS broadcasts had included a patriotic programme, showing Yugoslav soldiers defending their country, President Milosevic meeting Russian envoys and the Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, and others.
For artistic expression, they showed computer animations of the NATO cross logo turning into a swastika, and Madeleine Albright growing Dracula teeth in front of a burning building.
But the station also broadcast to the world dramatic images of destruction caused by the NATO bombing and gave credible estimates of civilian casualties. RTS scooped the world press when it disclosed that a NATO aircraft had killed scores of Albanian refugees in a bombing attack.
After RTS broadcast the scenes of the civilian carnage, NATO flip-flopped through the next 24-hour news cycle. NATO’s first response was: “We didn’t do it, the Serbs did it.” That changed to “we did bomb the column, but the Serbs killed the refugees.” Again lies.
Finally, NATO accepted fault and apologized. Still, NATO’s glib cockney spokesman, Jamie Shea, pushed the edges of Orwellian doublespeak when he declared that the pilot had “dropped his bombs (on the Albanian column) in good faith.”
Later, NATO played an audio-tape supposedly of the pilot in question. But it turned out that the recorded pilot was involved in a completely different operation. The real tape was withheld.
Contrary to Pentagon reports, NATO programming could be seen on 21st UHF channel throughout the northern Serbia and Belgrade area. Other radio and TV stations which had carried some NATO broadcasts were housed in the Business Centre USCE, which NATO destroyed on April 22.
The content of RTS broadcasts also was more complicated than NATO has asserted.
It’s important to stress that RTS was a center of cultural identity for the Serb nation. With the destruction of RTS headquarters, thousands of tapes and films have now been crushed to rubble, videos that once helped tell the Serbs and their children who they are — and provide some small comfort in their difficult lives.
On April 23, 1999, with permission of World leaders, Jelica Munitlak (28) make-up artist, Ksenija Bankovic (28) video mixer, Darko Stiomenovski (26) Technician in exchange, Nebojsa Stojanovic (27) and Branislav Jovanovic (50) TV technicians, Dragorad Dragojevic (27), Dejan Markovic (39) and Milan Joksimovic (47) security guards, Dragan Tasic (31) electrician, Aleksandar Deletic (31) cameraman, Slavisa Stevanovic (32) and Ivan Stukalo (34) technicians, Sinisa Medic (32) Programme designer, Milan Jankovic (59) technician, Tomislav Mitrovic (61)Programme Director and Slobodan Jontic (54) technician have been killed, at 2:06 a.m.