The Documentary

Background to the conflict Propaganda and truth: the media in Kosovo Genocide: what's in a word? Blair's moral crusade Opposition to the conflict


LM Online presents views from around the world, on who is opposing (or not opposing) NATO's war. If you would like to contribute to this section, email Brendan O'Neill at

  1. An undecided people on an undeclared war, by David Nolan
  2. Italy's anti-NATO mood, by Dominic Standish
  3. Protesting against media bias, by David Axe
  4. NATO and Kosovo - a just war?, by Tiffany Jenkins
  5. A view from China, by Sheila Parker
  6. The People's war?, by Jennie Bristow
  7. Journalists against war in the Balkans, by Veronica Forwood
  8. A peace plan - but no peace, by David Chandler
  9. The 'spin' that tricked Europe into war, by Andy Wasley

1. An undecided people on an undeclared war, by David Nolan

There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm in America for the war in Kosovo - from all concerned. This translates in some circles into an overwhelming unease that concentrates mainly on the ineptitude of its prosecutors. Through their desire to fight a 'risk-free' war even those within Clinton's administration have left themselves open to accusations of lacking the will to do the job 'properly'.

Turn to almost any constituency with more than a passing interest in American foreign policy and you will find critics. Diplomats, focusing on the realpolitik aspects of any war, point to the futility of demonising Milosevic as the new Hitler, as there is nobody else with whom they can do business with once it's all over. Former military leaders, among others, decry the cowardice of a war waged from 40,000 feet. Commentators from both liberal and conservative wings of the media denounce the conduct of the war from any number of angles. While all agree something must be done, and most admit America's need to be involved, it's just not how they would do it.

An illustrative event about the ambivalence towards the war took place on 28 April in Congress. The event was a debate about funding the war. The power to declare war lies with Congress - and Bill Clinton's poor standing with the Republican majorities in both Houses means that little he proposes is likely to succeed. On that day Congress voted, in very rapid succession, not to declare war, not to withdraw from Kosovo, not to even discuss sending troops and against endorsing the air barrage - while also voting to spend several billions to prosecute said air barrage.

One of the problems that many cite centres on America's national interest in Kosovo. Many argue that America has none. Others say that is exactly the point - recognising the kudos to be gained from fighting a moral crusade rather than a self-interested 'imperial' war. But as the conservative National Review pointed out, 'foreign policy as social work' doesn't work. Or, in the words of Reason's Nick Gillespie 'emotionalism is no way to conduct America's foreign policy'. The Republican hawks appear to be more concerned that they are lining up with the likes of Ted Kennedy than anything else. Others argue that America is itself 'degraded' by the bombing - the 'moral reputation of America' is apparently in tatters due to the manner in which it is deciding how the future of the Balkans will look. Just who was judging America's 'moral reputation' was unclear.

Among the general public, there is a large number of people who claim almost complete disinterest. They say things like, 'Well, if I had an opinion, it would be shaped by...' (insert relevant prejudice, eg, Holocaust to intervene, Vietnam to stay out). From the country that has spent the last century deciding the future of different parts of the globe at one time or another and pretty much all of it now, isolationism driven by political disinterest and alienation holds strong. Despite this, there is a very uncritical willingness to accept NATO propaganda, even after several hundred Kosovar men rose from the dead and trooped into Albania.

There have been a small number of protests organised by various anti-war coalitions. All, apart from a fairly significant and timely demonstration through Washington, DC, organised by the Serbian community during Nato's fiftieth birthday celebrations, have been remarkable only for their lack of impact. Some have caught the eye because of their crass opportunism and avoidance of saying anything that might offend. One protest, again in Washington, DC, used as its starting point a denunciation of Serbian human rights abuses and, almost as an afterthought, added its opposition to NATO bombing, which it said was 'preventing access to refugees inside Kosovo' and causing 'environmental degradation'. Not a word about Serbian civilian deaths and the apparent desire, in the words of one New York Times op-ed writer, to pulverise the Serbian nation back to 1950. (The piece was entitled 'We can do 1389 too'.) The New Republic did briefly enter into the fray with a cover story deriding the lack of Serbian opposition to Milosevic entitled 'Milosevic's willing executioners'. But one felt that it was more a general anti-Slav thing, or a tasteless attempt to draw attention to itself, rather than a statement based on investigation and analysis.

The failed opposition to the war has shown that the old-fashioned 'left' is even more irrelevant in the US than it is in most of Europe, especially as it persists with its moronic compulsion to juxtapose spending on war with spending on local schools and hospitals. Anybody who doesn't require the ministrations of a brain surgeon can figure that the several billion Congress spent so far on the war was not taken from either the education or the health budgets.

A revealing anecdote appeared in the Washington Post, from an era when a Western-led war provoked meaningful protest. In 1980, during protests against registering for the draft, a student appeared with the sign 'There is nothing worth dying for'. This provoked outrage among the establishment in a manner described as 'a tirade by one generation against its children'. That generation's children have now grown up. And Bill Clinton's also appears to believe that his crusade in not worth dying for (if you're an American soldier). Today's 'children', despite or perhaps because of the widespread cynicism they have towards the actions of their government, appear to lack the stomach even to challenge, let alone fight NATO's bloody carnage.


2. Italy's anti-NATO mood, by Dominic Standish

The anti-NATO sentiment has been growing in Italy as the air strikes have continued. While the world focused on the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Italians also noticed that their own embassy in Belgrade was badly damaged by NATO. Protests against the bombings have been held in cities across Italy. On the Venetian coast fishermen went on strike after three were injured when their fishing nets hauled in unexploded bombs dumped in the Adriatic sea by NATO planes. To cap it all, the US Congress dropped plans for US$40 million compensation to the families of 20 Europeans killed last year when a US NATO plane caught the cable of a ski gondola in the Italian Alps. Politicians reacted by referring to the 'colonising' of Italy.

Then last week several NATO leaders became very nervous about a NATO ceasefire proposal put forward by the Italian prime minister, Massimo D'Alema. He suggested a pause in the bombings to gain Russian and Chinese support for the text of a UN Security Council Resolution, followed by a NATO ground force invasion if Slobodan Milosevic rejects the terms of the resolution.

D'Alema's plan came after the backing of a resolution for the suspension of NATO bombings in the Italian parliament on 19 May. A large majority of the centre-left and the Refounded Communists supported the resolution, while the Northern League abstained and the right voted against it.

For many politicians this is a consequence of Italy's postwar relationship with the US. Many aspects of Italian sovereignty were compromised in return for aid and support against the communist threat within Italy. But with the passing of this era, many now question the continued presence of NATO bases across Italy. With most NATO bombers flying from these Italian bases, many Italian politicians have found that opposing the war can give them a new source of popularity and legitimacy.

D'Alema and his Democratic Left party that lead the government are former communists who have a long tradition of anti-NATO politics. They now experience the tension of running a government that supports the NATO campaign, while trying to gain domestic legitimacy by criticising NATO. The Refounded Communists have found a new lease of life since the NATO bombings began, helping to organise protests all around the country. When a senior government adviser, Massimo D'Antona, was assassinated on 20 May, the Red Brigade claimed responsibility in a document linking the killing to the Balkans war. If the Red Brigade claim is proven, it will be their first assassination since 1988 and will indicate their revival after their movement has been presumed dead for many years.

Catholics have also discovered that anti-NATO politics can revitalise their archaic politics. Franco Marini, head of the Popular Party, has discovered a new anti-war activism. As the leader of the main Catholic party in D'Alema's government, he pushed hard for the ceasefire plan. But some Italian commentators claimed that this was sparked by his failure to see himself or any of his party elected as the new Italian president. Even the Vatican has publicly criticised the NATO strikes.

A wide spectrum of political groups were represented in the most recent anti-NATO demonstration. On 16 May about 50,000 people marched from Perugia to Assisi calling for a NATO ceasefire. Katya Bellillo, a member of D'Alema's government, joined the protest, as did members of D'Alema's own party. The CGIL, a left-wing trade union federation, took a leading role in the organisation, alongside the Greens and Catholic groups.

This was only the latest in a series of well-attended demonstrations in cities and at NATO bases across Italy. Many have worn t-shirts declaring 'Italy is at war, not me', although most I have spoken to simply want UN intervention instead of a NATO-led force.

What do most average Italians think about the war? Many evidently feel some revulsion following the bombing raids, although that may not lead to them attending a demonstration. Most appear to be passively against the war, but for a variety of reasons. For some this is an expression of racism against the prospect of more refugees from the Balkans. Most Italians express a definite sense of unease with the proximity of the conflict, mixed with bemusement at the reasons for NATO air strikes. Few believe that they are intervening to save the Kosovo Albanians. On the other hand, I have not met anybody who challenges the basis for the NATO bombing: that leaders in the West have the right to sit in judgement on others.

As we hear the jets overhead at night it is not difficult to oppose NATO in a political climate that is highly critical of this anachronistic Cold War institution. The more challenging problem is to oppose the reasons behind the NATO campaign.

3. Protesting against media bias, by David Axe

Strong winds and heavy rain didn't deter around 300 people protesting against media bias in the reporting of the war against Serbia, on Thursday 20 May, sandwiched between the Ministry of Defence on one side and Downing Street on the other. The protesters made a tremendous noise, blowing whistles and imitating air-raid sirens. Chanting 'NATO out!', the protesters managed to illicit a response from passing motorists (more noise) as well as making themselves heard in 'Bomber Blair's' house at Number 10.

Called by the Committee for Peace in the Balkans, the protest drew attention to the 'virtual reality' of most of the war coverage. Particularly the way in which the coverage seems to be drawn directly from NATO briefings. An American of Serb descent found little difference in the coverage in the USA with the exception of some radio and cable TV stations.

Surrounded by horrific images of the carnage and destruction being wrought by NATO's bombardment and crosses bearing the names of the dead, many of the protesters expressed their desperation in knowing that their friends, neighbours and relatives were within NATO's bombsights.

Tony Benn MP addressed the protest, condemning the bombing as illegal and contrary to the United Nations Charter. Benn pointed out that there was 'no such thing as a humanitarian war', as civilians were always the first casualties. He called for an immediate cessation of the bombing and a negotiated settlement.

4. NATO and Kosovo - a just war?, by Tiffany Jenkins

On Tuesday 11 May, LM hosted the first public debate about the war with Yugoslavia, asking the question: NATO and Kosovo - a just war?

Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune and member of the Labour Party NEC

'Tribune was born in circumstances not totally dissimilar to these. There were people on the left who felt that democracy in Spain was being abandoned by the international community, and that nation states were prepared to allow fascism to prevail in Spain. Like many of the left, over the years we have campaigned for strong international intervention in places like East Timor and Rwanda.

'People who support taking action in Yugoslavia are not uncritical of what the United States of America has done. It turned a blind eye to the massive ethnic cleansing that began in Krajina and eastern Croatia. In Bosnia there was a grotesque failure of the international community to do anything about the destruction of a multiethnic state.

'I think the NATO campaign has been flawed and it has been very difficult to build up international support, because it has not been thought through and the ultimate option has not been put. At the time the West acted, Tribune said that air strikes alone would not work. If you are serious about giving the right of self-determination to the Kosovo people, you start by preparing to use ground forces. But before that happens, we are determined to achieve negotiated settlements that mean the Serbs withdraw from Kosovo and the Kosovans are able to determine their own future.

'People like myself and Jonathan have been accused of being members of the 'must do something brigade'. I plead guilty to that. People like me have been campaigning for years to do something when human rights are abused in such an appalling way. This is the big test of our time. It is down to us to argue for some very basic values around human rights and self-determination, and to look at how the international community can stop this sort of behaviour occurring elsewhere in the world.'

Mick Hume, editor, LM magazine

'Perhaps it is not surprising that Mark distanced himself from the war he is supposed to defend tonight. It's now clear that this war is a disaster for all concerned, with the exception of Tony Blair, who has used it to consolidate his position as first President of the Federal Republic of New Britain, and to have himself crowned King of Kosovo. Blair's war is a crusade. Its primary aim is to give his government an air of moral authority and a sense of mission, and the Kosovo refugees are a convenient stage army whose suffering can be used to justify intervention.

'This crusade has been given credibility by the "something must be done" club of liberal left journalists, artists, and politicians. No doubt people like Mark and Jonathan have the best intentions. But the assumptions behind the demand for intervention look like a new politics of superiority. The problem is always presented as "them over there", the solution is always "us over here". It is like President Clinton's argument about Kosovo: "what do you do to a child who does not do what he is told?" It sees a world of naughty children, where we have to go from playground to playground spanking them into order.

'At every stage in the Yugoslav tragedy, Western intervention has exacerbated tensions and intensified the conflict. When people demand "what's your solution?", the first thing we can do is not make things worse through yet more intervention.

'We hear a lot about the Balkan problem but little about a Balkan solution, where the people of the region sort out their own future. Mark talked about "self-determination". When did that come to mean that the destiny of the Balkans should be determined by Blair, Clinton and their Cruise missiles, or for that matter by the laptop bombardiers at the Tribune or the Guardian?'

Jonathan Freedland, Guardian columnist

'A laptop bombardier reporting for duty. The war presently conducted is difficult to defend. But neither Mark nor I are defending the air war. From the beginning it should have been a ground war. We are fighting a just war, and we should pursue it by means that are not demeaning.

'Why is this a just war? Mick dismissed the parallels with Hitler, and he is right about that as a debating technique. But there is something too dismissive about calling the hundreds of thousands of people who have been chased and killed a "stage army". There is nothing fictitious about these people or what's happening to them. Surely you want a solution that allows people to make decisions about their lives?

'You may say we should have tried diplomacy, but there were nine years of talks with Milosevic and day by day there were killings. Should the UN have been the proper method? The UN mandate is too weak. We could do nothing, but what message does this send to future dictators? After the Pinochet ruling we say it no longer needs be like that: not that they are naughty children, but that there can be a universal standard of human rights, and when that is violated a mechanism is triggered for action. We do not have to say yes, dictators can kill in their own borders.

'There is a chance here to make the new world of the twenty-first century less dark and bloody than the world we are leaving behind. This is a test for our generation, for time, for confidence in Europe, and for the left. The test is before us - will we let it pass?'

Edward Pearce, Scotsman columnist

'It is no good saying we wanted the right thing only it's gone wrong, but we are still morally right, in the middle of the rubble. You cannot separate competence from morality: you are going to be judged on the whole thing.

'Stroppy professional soldiers are very reluctant to go into war - they know about burning flesh and they know about boring technical difficulties like rain. This is terribly disappointing to the "want to do something" brigade. What is it that these liberals get wrong? They don't understand the complexities. They see wickedness, want to address it and they don't recognise how to do it.

'The idea is large in liberal minds that there ought to have been a big multiethnic Bosnia. But if you have only 66 percent of people voting for it, it is going to fail. And it is not good to use force. Morals based on the wrong facts are the means that kill the wrong people. We should have asked what we wanted, in Bosnia. We should have wanted what solved the problems between Turkey and Greece in 1918 -1922, and in Cyprus in 1974: exchanges of population under UN supervision.

'What would I have done about Kosovo? I would have wasted time, balanced the killing that was going on with the calamity that was going to happen and has happened, the exile which would not have happened without the bombing by NATO. I would have put troops on the border, with no intention of making war but with no intention of letting Milosevic know that. Then I would have brought in the Russians because they can speak to the Serbs. And while I waved the stick, I would have chopped up a carrot and handed it around.'

Nazi business?

One key issue in the debate was whether it is legitimate to compare events in Kosovo with the Nazi experience. Mark Seddon argued that there was an important question of the scale of the violence, but that this did not mean that a comparable situation could not arise in the Balkans. 'Didn't the persecution of the Jews start with Kristallnacht, did it not begin by shooting people in Russia and Poland?', he said. 'It was not planned until the Final Solution was organised. What is to stop this madness continuing on to this kind of thing?'

Mick Hume responded that a recourse to the language of the Holocaust distorts what is happening in the Balkans today. 'Saying the Serbs are like Nazis is an excuse for ignorance: we don't have to understand anything, and any action against them is justified. It also rewrites history and belittles the real horror of the Holocaust. There is a difference between driving people out of their homes and genocide, the systematic extermination of a race.'

Jonathan Freedland accepted that it was wrong to talk about Nazis and Holocausts in Kosovo, but mistrusted the motives behind a refusal to accept any comparisons with the atrocities of the past. 'There is a "say it ain't so brigade" who wish the reports of the atrocities away. They wish it wasn't true. They put their hands over their ears and look for elaborate alternatives.'

Global policing

The panel also debated the rights and wrongs of international intervention around the world. 'The concept of sovereignty is changing with a globalised world', said Jonathan Freedland. 'Countries are sovereign to a point. I would suggest a global universal standard applied to all, that once crossed there would be a recourse to international action. This should be partly contingent on whether these countries are democratic. Democracies can choose how they are run but there could be the bill of rights to prevent them from going too far.' He used the example of Colorado, which in 1992 voted effectively to persecute homosexuals. This right was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Mark Seddon argued for an internationalist order not based on Britain or the United States of America, but on a common standard of human rights. 'The West has a selective approach to intervention: this is why the argument for an internationalist order is powerful', he said. 'Based on human rights it would mean a systematic process of intervention.'

Mick Hume characterised these schemes as a new kind of 'PC imperialism, where the typical empire-builder is not Cecil Rhodes but Clare Short. The question is, who will set these international standards of behaviour? The law lords? The UN security council? Those with the power to dictate to the rest of the world.' A model for what might result, he suggested, would be the new UN protectorate of Bosnia, 'run by a UN-appointed official who decides who can stand in elections and what they can stand for, amongst other things'.

Summarised by Tiffany Jenkins

5. A view from China

Sheila Parker reports from Hangzhou

The announcement by the Foreign Office in response to the Chinese people's protests against the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, that British citizens should only travel to China 'if the trip was essential', was all part of NATO's propaganda war at home.

On Sunday 9 May I was out walking in the park by the Western Lake. It was bright sunny day and I was enjoying the opportunity to escape from the conference I was attending. However, my self-indulgence was rudely interrupted as I stumbled across the tail end of an anti-NATO demonstration just outside my hotel. As much as I would like to deny it, I did initially panic. News reports on CNN, which suggested that 'Westerners' had been attacked in the streets in Beijing, immediately came to mind. My 'panic', however, was unnecessary and soon disappeared. It rapidly became clear that there was no threat whatsoever. There certainly was real anger, but it was directed at NATO and its political leaders.

The few people who I managed to converse with in English made it clear that they were genuinely enraged by NATO's actions. They were very angry, upset and disgusted by the killing of their fellow countrymen in a conflict which they neither supported nor played any part in. They were perfectly able to distinguish between governments and their citizens and insisted on that distinction. Moreover, the target of their fury was directed at embassy buildings and officials who were clearly representatives of the governments who had perpetrated this outrage. These were considered legitimate targets for the outpouring of anger.

Indeed, it was the same across China. Numerous Chinese papers carried front-page stories quoting employees of Siemens and IBM saying that 'they felt no threat and had no intention of leaving China'. While this can be interpreted as an attempt to calm things by the state media, there was no evidence of any indiscriminate 'mob' violence on Westerners from anywhere in China. The British press, on the other hand, implied (without any evidence) that anybody in China with a white skin was in immediate danger from rampaging mobs whipped up by a manipulative state.

In fact, the media in the UK poured scorn on these events in China. They suggested that the Chinese demonstrations were orchestrated - that they were merely a cynical ploy perpetrated by the Chinese state to try to cohere the nation around the national flag on the anniversary of the Tianamen Square massacre.

Undoubtedly the state had its own reasons for allowing the demonstrations to take place. But it does not follow that the huge crowd of people I bumped into on my Sunday walk were not genuinely outraged. Why should it be so surprising that people would want to protest about the violent deaths of their fellow Chinese?

By questioning the motives behind the demonstrations the British media played their part in maintaining the consensus about NATO's moral crusade. By issuing warnings about 'essential travel', the media and Foreign Office suggested that strongly held points of view opposing NATO and its militaristic intervention were suspect.

Upon my return to Britain it became clear just how manipulative and disingenuous the media and the Foreign Office had been. On a personal level, friends and family had unnecessarily panicked to the point of distraction. But more broadly and more importantly, by questioning the developments I witnessed in China, the great moral divide between 'Good' and 'Evil' has been upheld: China and its people, like everybody who dares to question NATO's moral militarism, has now been forced by inference on to 'the other side'.

As I returned from authoritarian China to 'free' Britain I could not but reflect upon one glaring irony. Yes, the Chinese government had certainly taken advantage of the popular outrage expressed by its people. But the fury I had witnessed was genuine and represented a direct challenge to NATO's moral certitude. However, the response here was even more manipulative and cynical. Genuine opposition to NATO's intervention was portrayed as the actions of a cynical state manipulating a mindless and gullible population. It seems that those 'with God on their side', as Bob Dylan put it, simply assume that ordinary people in the West are equally mindless and gullible. The idea that we would uncritically accept this point of view and fail to see how the truth has been calculatingly and cynically manipulated before our very eyes is staggering.

As I landed back in the UK it struck me how much more in common I have with those ordinary Chinese demonstrators I met on my Sunday walk than I have with the politicians and policymakers who are supposed to represent me. They can have God and their 'missions from God'. I'll settle for ordinary people here and in China.

6. The People's war? by Jennie Bristow

When NATO's war against Serbia began, one peculiarity was that there was no public enthusiasm for it, and no public opposition to it. The dominant sentiment was one of uneasy acquiescence.

'We all feel very detached from it', said a friend of mine, aged 22. She put this down to the fact that she, along with 100 other students, had recently returned from a skiing holiday in the Alps. But she could have been speaking for almost anybody in Britain. This was never 'our' war, that the public felt a part of. There was no war fever, no jingoism, and even raising the subject of the war in a social situation made you feel rude or like a bully, trying to drag people into a discussion they did not want to have.

So what was this detachment? After all, people do care. Confronted with pictures of human misery, with horror stories of atrocities, your emotions are affected and your concerns are raised. But if you care, where does this lead? What do you do?

You, of course, cannot do anything. The only people who can are those who sit in parliament and Whitehall, in NATO and the UN. And politics have never seemed more irrelevant, and politicians less trustworthy, than today. You may think there is no alternative to their intervention in Yugoslavia, but this is a far cry from investing political leaders with the ability to put a stop to the horrors of the world. Blair is no Winston Churchill...or even Margaret Thatcher. These are different times.

But has this mistrust of political leaders, this general detachment from the war, led to a powerful anti-war sentiment? No. Because even if nobody thinks politicians can solve the problems, it is taken as given that Somebody should do Something.

Whatever is said or not said about Kosovo, the one phrase that trips off the tongue is 'we never thought we'd see this again'. The imminence of 'another Holocaust' is a fear held across society, unquestioned and unchallenged. The acceptance that there might, as the papers insist, be another Holocaust in the making has brought with it a set of imperatives that overrides all other doubts. If it might happen again, somebody has to stop it. And if there is no alternative to Blair et al, the task has to be down to them.

Blair's war may not bring the national devotion of the Second World War or the Falklands, but nor will it attract the opposition that greeted Vietnam. All it brings is acquiescence, with a sour taste in its mouth.

7. Journalists against war in the Balkans, by Veronica Forwood

War reporting today is being done by people who have essentially 'missed the plane', war historian Phillip Knightley told an anti-war gathering in London on 19 April. He termed 'an illusion' the perception that the Balkans conflict was receiving saturation coverage.

Knightley, author of The First Casualty, considered by some the definitive book about reporting wars, spoke to an audience of more than 100 at The Freedom Forum European Center at an open meeting billed as 'Stop the Bombing - Journalists Against the War in the Balkans'.

'The war on television is being covered by correspondents who are scattered around the borders of Kosovo, not inside, except with occasional, honourable exceptions. They are interviewed by another journalist back in London, so it's journalists interviewing journalists', he said.

Television coverage consists either of a reporter peering across a frontier and seeing yet another crowd of refugees pouring in, or of a series of experts sitting around a table, discussing what they thought was going on, Knightley contended.

'The hard facts on the battleground are simply not there and the hard facts in the newspapers are not there. Again it's opinion pieces or supposition', he said.

A second illusion that had taken hold was a more dangerous one, Knightley said. This was the idea put forth by NATO and Pentagon spokesmen that 'we as spokesmen for our side will always tell you the truth and that Belgrade on the other hand will only pump out propaganda', he said.

Officials have always said this sort of thing in wartime, Knightley said, as they try to manage the news. He said the military had succeeded in doing so for 150 years in its battle with war correspondents.

'The theory at briefings is simply (to) appear open, transparent and eager to help. Never go in for summary repression or direct control; nullify rather than conceal undesirable news; control the emphasis rather than the facts; balance bad news with good and lie directly only when you are certain the lie won't be found out during the course of the war', Knightley argued.

'Looking back on history we see that these sorts of lies often don't surface until too late to make any difference to the outcome. Five, 10 years or 20 years later you suddenly discover the people you trusted to tell you what was happening were lying to you', he claimed.

'The same sort of lying went on in the Gulf War, when smart bombs were said to hit with pinpoint accuracy. It's simply not true. It was not admitted until after the war that one in four bombs missed its target', he said.

Referring to the accidental NATO strike on a refugee column in the Djakovica area of Kosovo on April 14, Knightley said that 'they knew within 24 hours, probably within four hours, what had happened to that refugee convoy, but if you release in dribs and drabs, muddy the water, by saying we're waiting for results of further investigation, (then) by the time they announced it, for most people reading the newspapers or watching television it was all over and done with'.

Knightley added that he believed that in general the American press was much more critical than its British counterpart.

Investigative journalist John Pilger said the 'propaganda war is the most challenging aspect of this whole dreadful disaster'. Regarding the view that NATO spokesman Jamie Shea and British defence secretary George Robertson were lying, Pilger said 'of course they're lying. It's their job in war to deceive. It's their job to lie, to deceive, and our job to expose them to try and show the public are being conned'.

Pilger added: 'The media does have pretensions of being a free media and there are a lot of very good journalists working in it who care a great deal about telling the truth. So I think there are ways to dent this monolith. Challenge executive producers, editors, all those with the power to put copy in paper, programmes on air. I think they all need to be challenged.'

The Persian Gulf War was the most reported war in history and yet almost everybody missed the story, Pilger said, claiming that the story was that 200,000 people were slaughtered, including the very minorities, the Kurdish and Shia peoples that (then British prime minister) John Major and (then US president) George Bush said the West was protecting.

Pilger referred to 'one horrific glimpse' of the 'turkey shoot' on the Basra Road as Iraqis streamed out of Kuwait, and later, in a rare glimpse on a British TV programme, hitherto-unseen American footage from the Gulf War of bodies being shoved into a mass grave.

Mick Hume, editor of Living Marxism magazine, triggered controversy in the Freedom Forum discussion when he referred to 'predictable propaganda rituals', claiming, 'You can almost write about it before it happens. You know it would only be a matter of time before somebody discovered a concentration camp, then there was going to be a rape camp and then there was going to be mass graves and then aerial photographs, all supposed to make us believe the Serbs are the new Nazis'.

Hume accused many journalists of being prepared to act almost as 'audio-typists for NATO - say it and we will write it down'.

In particular Hume said anything endorsed by Albanian ethnic refugees was being printed as true. 'I think we should have tremendous sympathy and be fantastically generous to those people suffering on the border but we shouldn't treat them as oracles of truth.'

'We should know at the end of the 20th Century that you cannot believe atrocity stories that come out of the mouths of refugees in war zones in this uncritical fashion', Hume said.

He was challenged by Freedom Forum European Director John Owen, who asked: 'Are you telling us, when you said it was a predictable pattern of propaganda stories, that there have not been rape camps or concentration camps? And isn't it true that your magazine and you are trying to perpetuate the idea that Trnopolje camp in Bosnia did not exist?'

Hume said his magazine had published an article that proved Trnopolje was not a concentration camp, the use of which term he called a 'degrading of language'. Genocide, he said, means organised annihilation of a race. Concentration camps were for industrial implementation of a policy of genocide. To use the terms otherwise 'diminished the real experience of the Holocaust. It distorts the present; the Serbs become the new Nazis'.

Shefki Bytyqi, a Kosovo Albanian who has lived in Britain for nine years since, he said, the Serbs closed his university, challenged journalists to have the courage to get the real facts in Kosovo.

'I am a propagandist, I support the KLA, I have been raising funds for KLA. I don't think they are terrorists as some of you here might think. I urge you to go and find the facts, not just question what NATO is saying. Have the courage to go to Kosovo and find the facts there or go to Belgrade and ask the people in Serbia what they are going through', Bytyqi said.

This article was originally published by Freedom Forum Online on 22 April

8. A peace plan - but no peace

The G8 peace plan put to the UN Security Council may have brought a halt to the NATO bombing but will bring no stability to the Balkan region, argues David Chandler

The war has been a tragedy for the Balkan people. Albanians and Serbs of Kosovo have been the main losers. The province has been turned into a wasteland by war between the KLA and Serb security forces and NATO bombing. In the course of the war the number of refugees climbed from 250,000 to nearly 1.5 million, many of whom will be reluctant to return even if the economy eventually recovers to its pre-war level, which was one of the poorest in the region. Life is not much better for the inhabitants of Yugoslavia who after 10 years of sanctions and 70 days of bombing have a devastated economy with infrastructure, sanitation, communications and power supplies all seen as 'legitimate targets' for the NATO bombers. The war has also set back the neighbouring states in the region, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece, whose economies and political stability have been severely disrupted.

Unfortunately the people of the Balkans are of little account in most assessments of the outcome of the 10-week military action. The military victory in the Balkans may be celebrated in a muted fashion but the political success of the leading NATO powers has been greeted as a victory for moral interventionism. British and German social democrats are leading the victory celebrations. As German foreign minister Joshka Fischer declared, 'For the first time in its history, Germany is fighting on the right side'. The German military action in Europe has completed the restoration of German international prestige. Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and defence minister Rudolf Sharping have also bolstered their international and domestic standing as have their counterparts in Washington, Paris and London.

Looking good at home is easy if you playing the role of fighter for civilisation against barbarism or crusader for good against evil. The moral crusade may have started with US plans to enhance NATO's influence over European affairs but the black and white world of moral absolutes is becoming increasingly addictive for Western politicians of all stripes without a coherent mission at home. Even non-NATO states have managed to catch some of the moral fallout, the Irish government, for example, banning the visit of the Yugoslav football team in its bid to clamber on to the moral high-ground.

Having made so much political capital out of civilising the Balkan natives, the mere fact that the Serbs have surrendered on NATO's terms is not going to stop the international juggernaut. The moral crusade in the Balkans is only just beginning. British prime minister Tony Blair wrote in the New Statesman that: 'Now we have a new moral cause. Once we have pinned down the details of this deal, we must rebuild the Balkans and remove the cancer of ethnic conflict forever'. There is no talk of Balkan 'exit strategies'.

Even before the Kosovo conflict the Balkans had been seen as an area where it is easy to capture the moral high-ground through international intervention. Every institution and NGO involved in the region has been able to gain credibility at home through stressing its importance to Balkan people and the importance of their civilising values. This process was clearly demonstrated in Bosnia where the one-year transition to democracy at Dayton became transformed into an indefinite international protectorate. No institution involved in the mission has wanted to leave and in order to justify new mandates they have all asserted that the Balkans have become a 20th century 'White Man's Burden'. At every Balkan conference the international mandates extend as Western institutions assume a more and more elitist approach to the Balkan peoples.

This approach reached a new stage at the Paris/Rambouillet peace talks on Kosovo which involved no face-to-face contact between Albanians and Serbs and the take it or be bombed package not intended to be acceptable to the Serbian delegation. Although agreeing on autonomy for Kosovo, the proposal for a referendum on independence after three years would have destroyed Serbian sovereignty, also threatened by the Appendix B proposals that NATO troops would regulate the province without UN control and NATO would have free access to the whole of Yugoslavia without permission, payment or accountability for any criminal or civil offences. The US policymakers thought a quick war would reassert NATO's importance and restore Clinton's tarnished reputation.

The war aims achieved, the US has relaxed on all three of the issues which most concerned the Serbian government. The G8 plan leaves the question of a referendum, permits UN and Russian involvement in peacekeeping and does not mention access to the rest of the FRY.

This however is no victory for state sovereignty in the Balkans. Serbia may not have accepted that NATO have a free hand in its affairs, but the need to receive international reconstruction aid, to have the sanctions lifted and avoid the threat of renewed bombing means that the state will be constantly under external pressure. Tony Blair started the process by promising that Serbia would not receive any economic aid and would isolate itself from democratic nations as long as Milosevic was in power. Today, NATO politicians can proclaim that a democratically elected president is not acceptable to the international community and in effect veto Yugoslav presidential candidates. All in the name of democracy, of course.

The next challenge to Yugoslav sovereignty swiftly followed with the insistence that the Yugoslav forces create a buffer zone, restricting military deployment and air defences within Serbia itself. This process of pressing further demands will be played out over the next few years. In the same way as Iraq, whenever the Western leaders need a whipping post or to project themselves as the embodiment of good, then tensions will be raised over one aspect or another of Yugoslav policy.

This process is dangerous as marginalising the Serbian state will fragment the region further. Montenegro is under international pressure to push for independence which will create tensions between North and South. Vojvodina will be encouraged to go for greater autonomy as will the Sandak region, again escalating tensions and cohering ethnic and regional divisions.

Kosovo will have even less autonomy than the semi-protectorate of Bosnia. While a US representative will be in charge of the NATO forces, the EU will be responsible for recommending a High Representative in charge of civilian reconstruction. At present Britain and France are at loggerheads over which country should have the post with the Blair keen to appoint Paddy Ashdown, retiring leader of the Liberal Democrats and leading hawk. The High Representative would be the de facto government of Kosovo and have the powers to impose policy, remove elected representatives and close down media programmes at will.

The Kosovo Albanians, the supposed objects of the humanitarian intervention, were not involved in the peace deal. The Albanian separatists are the main losers in the political process since Rambouillet, having to accept that independence is no longer on the table, and may well be the ones that spoil the NATO celebrations. Having pushed their cause on to the moral high-ground it will be difficult to go back to condemning them as terrorists for wanting a say in the running of the province.

To try and prevent the possibility of this embarrassment US secretary of state, Madeline Albright, summoned the political head of the KLA, Hashim Thaqi, and the unofficial president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, to talks in Bonn. Conscious that elections in Kosovo would make public the divisions within Albanian ranks and opposition to the peace settlement, the Americans want to persuade Rugova, Thaki and another radical breakaway leader from Rugova's party, Rexhep Qosja, to form a council of national security to avoid putting the peace plan to a democratic test.

There is a central tension in Western policy in the Balkans. On the one hand, there is a desire to stabilise the region, as the US had attempted to do in Albania and Macedonia through the stationing of troops and aid provision and in Kosovo with the acceptance of Milosevic's package of autonomy and a security clamp-down against KLA 'terrorism', agreed until the end of last year. But on the other hand, there is a desire to play for the moral high-ground which leads Western powers to make destabilising interventions, such as the military campaign over Kosovo.

The fact that it is the second of these concerns that has so far been decisive indicates that the Balkan region has a low strategic priority for the US in terms of international stability or economic welfare but a high one for moralising the relationship between the US and Europe and asserting US and NATO dominance. This suggests that the Kosovo crisis will not mark the end of Balkan instability caused by Western meddling.

David Chandler is the author of Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton, published by Pluto Press

9. The 'spin' that tricked Europe into war

Andy Wasley reports on how NATO's handling of the media during the Kosovo conflict has been characterised by news management, propaganda and censorship. Additional research by Mollie Brandl Bowen

Tony Blair, writing in a Sunday newspaper in May, spoke of Britain having a free press and of NATO and the British Government being accountable in the media over the bombing of Serbia. He emphasised that as a result of NATO's respect of international law, Slobodan Milosevic had been indicted as a war criminal. What he failed to mention was that himself may soon be indicted for war crimes, that a dossier accusing him, the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and other leading Government officials of crimes against humanity had been handed in to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. The little known Cambridge based Movement For the Advancement of International Criminal Law had compiled the dossier as the text of the indictment of Milosevic was being prepared in Washington and the Hague.

This was the first time in modern international history that a prominent Western leader had been formally accused of war crimes, yet it was judged to be so unimportant that it failed to make the pages of all but one national newspaper. Both television and radio ignored it entirely. It was, as one leading war critic suggested, "As if it hadn't happened." This is understandable. The Labour administration has clearly heeded the lesson learnt by previous governments - that fighting a war without the support of a sympathetic media is political suicide.

The result has been a four month 'war of spin' characterised by information suppression, media manipulation and news management, with London, Brussels and Washington working overtime to set the media agenda - sustaining the propaganda informing the world that the cause is a just one, the bombing and subsequent occupation of Kosovo a necessary evil. Rather than question this by undertaking independent research and analysis, the media, for the most part, has simply played along. It has relied almost exclusively upon the continuous output of NATO's media machine - press releases, briefings by 'appropriate' spokespeople and blurred footage shot by aircrews ten thousand feet above the ground - to fill the monumental amount of column inches and airtime given over to the conflict.

This illusion of saturation coverage has obscured the reality that the media (both knowingly and otherwise) has acted as NATO's mouthpiece. As one senior Times journalist commented, "Very little of what we have [reported] originated anywhere other than 'official' sources." Most reporting has engaged the question of 'how long?' rather than 'why?' Nowhere in the media, early on at least, was the campaign questioned on grounds of illegality or immorality. This was despite it being widely known that Tony Blair, in encouraging his NATO counterparts to support the bombing, was effectively inciting a violation of international humanitarian law. NATO's bombing of Serbia without an appropriate UN resolution is comparable, according to some critics, to Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941 - without justification, a violent act of war - yet the media played along.

Images of bedraggled refugees fleeing Kosovo were screened universally, not only to impart to the world the sheer scale of the crisis unfolding, but to justify the West's use of force in the region. What the images failed to portray accurately was that a great many of the refugees were in fact fleeing the NATO bombs, rather than the Serbian death squads NATO accused of exclusively causing the exodus.

Television cameras filmed NATO warplanes taking off from the decks of naval craft in the Mediterranean, they ignored the accounts of refugees who had witnessed the destruction of their homes by 'astray' NATO bombs. For all Blair's talk of of a free press, of being accountable, where was the balanced reporting, where was the alternative?

The coverage which did find its way onto the News At Six was enough to confirm critics fears - that its covertly 'selective' nature had been deliberately designed to obscure the truth. Graphic pictures portraying the victims of alleged Serbian atrocities were screened freely. In contrast, the charred remains of Serbian families blown to bits by NATO missiles were 'edited', deemed too offensive for public showing. The media played along.

The very language employed by NATO spokespeople was deliberately designed to shift the focus of attention away from those responsible for scenes which, in another context, would only be described as atrocities. 'Blunder' became one favourite, with Jamie Shea, NATO's cockney spokesman, employing it regularly to defend the 'occasional yet inevitable' civilian casualties. Rather than verbally illustrate the terrible carnage caused when a stray bomb lands in a residential street, 'blunder' conjures up images of schoolboy comics' generals making another mistake - 'whoops there goes another, must do better next time'

'Collateral damage' became the ideal substitute for the desolation caused when a bomb fell on a primary school rather than the munitions factory 'confirmed as nearby'.

NATO claimed from the start that it only had a bombing policy of striking targets 'of primary importance to the Serbian government and infrastructure'. There was, according to official spokes people, 'no policy of targeting civilians'.

Again, the use of language cleverly obscures the true nature of the campaign. NATO may not have set out to machine gun civilians on the street, but if they happened to be inside or in the vicinity of 'legitimate' targets, then so be it.

When the headquarters of Serbia's leading television station was hit, twelve workers lost their lives (producers, technicians and the tea lady were among those killed), NATO claimed this to be 'a regrettable consequence.' Knowing that TV stations maintain twenty four hour staff presence, can such a policy of no targeting of civilians still be believed?

Equally, when the Chinese embassy was mistakenly hit, resulting in several deaths, the true consequences of the action were hidden. Television pictures illustrating the structural damage to the building were beamed around the world, the bodies of two passing Serbian school children were not. The media played along.

Closer to home, BBC executives in London, when faced with the prospect of an anti war debate being held in their building (ironically, in the National Union of Journalists room), did everything in their power to cancel the meeting, informing the principle speaker, Alan Simpson MP, that the event was 'off', and forcing it to be rescheduled to a nearby university campus.

More covertly, when an election broadcast for the Socialist Labour party was found to contain graphic images of victims of a 'blundered' NATO bombing mission, BBC executives took the decision to cut the offending images; referring the issue to the Independent Television Commission, which immediately upheld the decision. According to a spokesman, "Such images, if allowed to be used in the context of politics, and at a time such as this, could be seen as unacceptably undermining the integrity of the ruling [Labour] administration."

Clearly, the broadcasting of scenes which visually illustrate the human cost of NATO's bombing campaign is seen as unpalatable and outside the 'margins of decency' that the BBC and ITC so vigorously uphold. Questioning the integrity of the Labour party (it was the Labour party, was it not, which ordered British jets into action over Serbia?) clearly steps beyond the boundaries of 'fair play' and 'unbiased' reporting that the BBC built its reputation upon.

The few journalists who did question the bombing campaign quickly found themselves isolated, ridiculed or intimidated. When the BBC's 'Today' presenter John Humphrys said on air that the bombing of Serbia was 'a mess', his comments were compared to asking 'What happens if it doesn't work?" at the time of the D-Day landings. Rather than support Humphrys' approach, BBC chiefs responded by axing a travel documentary examining Serbia, as one senior producer put it "Openly signalling which side of the fence the BBC would be sitting on."

When John Pilger, commenting in the Guardian, spoke out against what he saw as the Western media's self censorship, he found himself at the centre of a number of allegations, ranging from being 'ever madder', 'a liar' and a 'plain propagandist'.

His claim that up to 38 NATO warplanes had been shot down (official NATO sources put the figure at two), was roundly criticised for being incorrect.

Anyone seriously researching the issue of how many warplanes have been lost will know that the true figure is nearer twenty than the mere two widely reported. A telephone call to NATO HQ will confirm that 'Two US planes have been shot down, [we] cannot confirm or deny that a number of others have been lost.' Apparently, journalists need to contact NATO countries individually to clarify 'further enquiries'. Do this, and the aircraft toll rises significantly.

NATO defended its public statistic of two by pointing out that its spokes people answer specifically what they are asked - in most instances, how many aircraft have been 'shot down'. The figure does not include craft 'damaged', 'missing' or 'otherwise unaccounted for'.

The example illustrated both the selective nature of NATO's media machine and the press's disturbing reliance upon it. No one, it seems, bothered to check beyond the briefings stating that only two aircraft had been lost.

Similarly, when journalist Ian Craig approached national papers in May with a story suggesting that Greek hoteliers were planning to sue NATO for a loss of tourist earnings, it was turned down on the basis of being 'without substance' as the number of Western travellers visiting Greece had in fact increased. This was true, but only in so far as the figure had increased on the previous month's paltry statistics - overall, tourist visits to Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean were at an all time low, partly because of the regions proximity to the Balkans war zone.

Editors had telephoned the Greek national tourist office and NATO (both falsely claimed that the story had been fabricated by Serb sympathisers in an attempt to cause a rift between an already strained Athens and Brussels) but failed to contact hoteliers themselves. Neither had they attempted to question in what context the tourist statistics had increased.

By the time the journalists concerned had pointed this out, the original issue of the hoteliers suing NATO (an unprecedented action) had been overshadowed by an argument over the interpretation of statistics. As one reporter put it , "NATO spin effectively killed the story - the national press, knowingly or otherwise, assisted in the process." NATO's media machine had worked overtime earlier on during the conflict to 'kill' similar stories which had attempted to highlight a range of alternative motivations for the bombing campaign.

When journalists suggested that British and US economic foreign policy objectives, rather than any genuine 'humanitarian agenda', might account for the attacking of Serbia, NATO spokespeople denounced such suggestions as "Mere muck raking". One senior Foreign Office representative commented that "Such theories belong in the history books. They might explain [wars] in the nineteenth century, but not in the present day" - as if international diplomacy didn't exist in the contemporary world!

Such a response came despite William Cohen, US Secretary of Defence, clearly illustrating NATO's economic position on the Balkans last year: "Expanding into Eastern Europe spreads political stability, and with that spread of stability there is a prospect to attract investment." Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa, captured the mood of many leading foreign policy commentators when he explained the contemporary Balkans problem in terms of expansionist commercial and economic objectives: "International financial institutions and creditors [are attempting] to subject the [Balkans] economies to massive privatisation and the dismantling of the public sector. While attention is focused on troop movements and cease fires, the Balkans is busy being transformed into a safe haven for free enterprise."

Such a move would generate potentially limitless revenue for Western business and Governments, the interest charged on loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) enough to eventually outweigh any costs incurred in waging a bombing campaign against Serbia. When Chossudovsky argued, with evidence, that the "cultural, ethnic and religious divisions are highlighted, presented dogmatically as the sole cause of the crisis when in reality they are the consequence of a much deeper process of economic and political fracturing", he perhaps captured the beliefs of all those opposed to the bombing.

As journalist Kevin Dowling pointed out (his article on the subject ended up a few paragraphs in one national newspaper) both the US and Britain have long regarded the Balkans a staple region in which to expand the principles of free market economics; since the Dayton Accords ended the last conflict in the region the number of European multinational companies operating there has trebled.

Serbia and Kosovo strategically holds some of the world's richest resources in terms of mineral extraction - last year Greece signed a multi-billion dollar deal with Serbia to expand a joint mining operation which could generate over a trillion dollars in export revenue, in part explaining the Greek Government's reluctance to bomb Serbia.

The Anglo-American wing of mining conglomerate, RTZ, also operates mines in both Macedonia and Bulgaria, its operations in the Balkans theatre under threat as long as the ethnic conflicts continue. A leaked memo from a senior RTZ official clearly illustrates the company's position: 'If the [NATO] mission in the Balkans fails to smooth the unrest out, and the current violence continues, [RTZ] will seriously have to reassess its involvement in the region. The Foreign Office cannot seem to reassure us for the future.'

Despite such suggestive evidence, NATO refused to acknowledge that economic objectives played any part in its motivation, stating that any story which suggested so was 'without foundation'.

Few newspapers, television or radio stations entertained the idea (those that did mentioned the region's economic potential, but failed to highlight the political implications), one commissioning editor stating that the isolation that would result [from running such a story] outweighed the benefits.

'Without foundation' was also applied by NATO to suggestions that alleged Serbian massacres were being 'overplayed' and manipulated in the media in an attempt to justify the bombing, deflect attention away from mounting NATO 'blunders' and alleged atrocities carried out by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

When John Sweeney in the Observer exposed how Serbian police had brutally massacred a large number of Kosovan Albanians in the village of Little Krushe in late March, the piece was received, justifiably, as 'seminal proof' that Serbian atrocities had indeed taken place . There was however, no coverage of emerging evidence suggesting that previous alleged Serb killings were being 'set up' by KLA fighters, eager to use such tactics as propaganda to speed up NATO's intervention in the conflict.

Less than a week after the Observer's chilling report; journalist Reid Irving highlighted how KLA fighters may have 'hoaxed' the widely reported 'January 16th' massacre at the village of Racak. According to Irving, after a gun battle between KLA fighters and Serbian police had finished, 22 bodies were discovered in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the village. Foreign journalists were invited to the site by members of the KLA and told that whilst the battle had raged, civilians had been rounded up and shot by Serbian police.

The journalists, suspicious of the amount of time the Serbs would have had to carry out such an act, claimed they were unable to get reliable testimony to the exact chronology of events from the KLA. Joined by pathologists from Belarus and Finland, they also reported that the bodies had had clothing changed, that injuries didn't match damage to clothing and that additional bullets had been fired at close range to give the impression of a massacre.

Although, as Irving points out, the jury may still be out as to whether the Racak massacre was a KLA hoax, the element of doubt is significant as it was this event which spurred the US and UK to step up movements towards using force to 'stabilise' the situation. The Racak massacre also first prompted the significant use of the term 'genocide' in the media to describe events in the former Yugoslavia, which, as historian Thomas Craig suggested, "[alleged genocide] was the primary means by which NATO leaders attempted to persuade the public that their involvement was now necessary."

No attempt to question this was made by the media.

This same selective reporting was also applied in Britain to an article in LM magazine which investigated the circumstances surrounding the now famous ITN pictures of a starved Bosnian Muslim, Fikret Alic, apparently caged behind barbed wire at the Bosnian Serb run 'Trnopolje' camp in 1992. These images became the most powerful symbol of the Bosnian war and according to NATO, provided evidence of Serb run 'concentration camps' - evidence which spurred the US, UK and other Western nations to begin moving into the Balkans in a serious manner.

The article, written by Thomas Deichmann, suggested that the camp was no 'Nazi-style concentration camp', that it in fact the ITN camera crew had filmed the 'prisoners' through barbed wire belonging to an adjacent agricultural compound, rather than wire encircling the camp, providing a misleading picture of the situation to the world.

Despite being published across Europe, when LM magazine ran the piece in Britain, ITN demanded that all copies be pulped, that the editors apologise and that damages be paid. When LM refused, in the words of a senior editor 'to be gagged in an unprecedented move to silence the independent media', ITN issued writs for libel, the case still awaiting trial.

Although the issue itself has received some coverage, its wider implications for freedom of speech and in explaining the continuing Balkans unrest have not. Few newspapers, television or radio stations have seriously examined the background to an event, which, as with the Racak massacre, sparked off NATO's use of force in the Balkans. Instead, both Deichmann and the editors of LM have systematically been branded as 'Serb apologists' and compared to the revisionist historians associated with the Holocaust. There's been no outcry at an attempt by a major news provider to stifle an alternative view of world affairs by an important independent magazine. The dominant perspective, and NATO's associated actions, have been endorsed without significant protest or investigation.

Even now as NATO occupies Kosovo, the manipulation, news management and censorship continues. When the KLA first suggested that it would not lay down arms in the face of a NATO 'peacekeeping force', the media widely reported both Clinton and Blair firmly stating that such a stance contradicted the agreement reached in the Rambouillet accords. What it failed to report was that a great many of the weapons in the hands of the KLA were supplied by US arms exporters. There was no mention that the US Government began arming the Kosovo guerrillas as early as August last year; hoping, in the words of one senior defence official 'to precipitate an 'internal solution' to the ongoing Kosovan 'problem'.

As the first retreating Serbian's were shot by British, American and German troops entering Kosovo, and the first sites of alleged war crimes 'discovered', there was no mention that US planes were providing 'tactical support' to KLA fighters engaging rogue units of the Serbian police. This 'tactical support' was the usage of cluster bombs against a military with little firepower and no heavy armour; mostly civilians armed with ageing Russian rifles. Witnesses on the ground say that US jets had repeatedly attacked Serbian police units, many of them preparing to retreat into Serbia as agreed by Milosevic only days before. Such a move clearly contradicts the rhetoric of Blair when he stated that 'NATO will avoid taking sides, we are acting purely in the name of humanitarianism'.

Commentators are already talking of the Kosovo conflict as being 'well managed' by NATO, Blair specifically. Polly Toynbee caused outrage amongst anti war journalists after announcing on BBC Newsnight that 'when going to war, one must weigh up whether the good that will come from it will outweigh the bad - in this case, I think the facts speak for themselves, Kosovo is a just and moral war.'

This 'just and moral' war has led to the killing of well over ten thousand Serbian people, many of them civilians. It has smashed the Serbian economy and infrastructure and destroyed the natural environment. It has displaced over a million people and destabilised the entire region, creating a situation where NATO troops have had to be deployed. The media then described this and NATO's illegal invasion as the 'Liberation' of Kosovo.

This 'well handled' war clearly extends to the intimidation, degradation and isolation of an entire country - Blair's announcement that Serbia is to receive no aid as long as Milosevic retains power is comparable only to the sanctions placed on Iraq following the Gulf crisis. In Iraq 'no aid' has resulted in widespread poverty, disease and unrest; when Britain and the US trade aid in return for oil, they are trading in people's lives.

Equally, when the British Government admitted to sponsoring a 'Kosovo Regeneration Taskforce' to ensure that British companies win multi-billion dollar contracts to rebuild the region it has in part destroyed, there was silence from the media. There was no mention that some UK companies were being briefed by the Foreign Office about potential contracts before the bombing had even begun.

Amongst the thousands of words printed and broadcast on the crisis where was the most fundamental of questions: why Kosovo? There are 37 wars taking place around the globe, Britain and the US are not interfering in these, often bloodier conflicts.

The media has failed to even ask, let alone answer, such a question.

There is already talk of the lessons learnt from Kosovo (as if it's over for the thousands uprooted by NATO's attack), of what positive can come out of this latest of NATO's quests. The only lesson to be learnt by the media is the essential need for an independent press, one willing to go against the grain and report the truth. Without this, the first phase of recording history will be distorted from the start.

The Balkans has been a centrepoint for Western Imperialism for over two centuries, the same powers that 'intervened' then, 'intervene' now. When the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II of Turkey described in 1876 how 'The expansionist tendencies of the [European] powers probably has more to do with bloodshed [in the Balkans] than any of the ethnic groups, however insurgent', he little realised the profoundness of his words.

Any journalist daring to suggest a much wider background to Kosovo than the soundbite pumped out by NATO is quickly dismissed as 'radical', 'marginal' or worse. Journalism offering the alternative is stifled so that the truth remains distorted and unclear.

History has illustrated this. When Britain, the US and the other nations of 'justness' have previously acted in the name of 'humanity' and 'creating stability', their motives have proved questionable at best, murderous at worst. Vietnam, Cambodia, the Falklands, Bosnia and the Gulf bear testimony to this.

Even now, whilst engaging in Kosovo, the US and Britain are bombing Iraq almost daily, and America attempting to up the stakes in the Far East by deploying a mini 'Star Wars' 'Theatre Missile Defence' (TMD) between Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, part of Clinton's plan to isolate China militarily. This will destabilise the 'East' as in the 'West', all in the name of 'ethical' US foreign policy objectives.

Clinton talks of 'decent, moral values', Blair of 'the right thing to do'. The US financially supports the Turkish Government, one of the worst violators of human rights in the world. A government which has systematically slaughtered one and a half million Armenians through 'ethnic cleansing' (the primary motive for Clinton's war against Serbs), which tortures, murders and imprisons 'dissidents' and which uses tanks to prevent people from attending polling stations in time of elections. Clinton calls this a democracy.

The UK has repeatedly sold arms to Indonesia, a regime which has murdered over 200 000 East Timorese in the name of 'occupation, a regime which breaks up demonstrations with bullets and grenades. Of the forthcoming referendum on independence for East Timor, Blair speaks of 'excellent progress', 'of Britain's 'commitment to democracy.'

Democracy is what he spoke of when the first bombs fell on Belgrade.

Andy Wasley is a journalist and researcher specialising in media issues. He is editor of the Channel Media news service and has written widely on censorship for, amongst others, The Independent, Journalist, Index on Censorship, Boston Globe, Third World First and Red Pepper.