Media: Hello, good evening, and welcome to Bosnia's Hate TV

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The Independent Online
Supporters of the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic are starting a new television station to promote their leader. As well as extolling the virtues of the UN-indicted war criminal, the station will carry the war between the Bosnian Serbs to a new dimension.

A strong contender for Europe's worst television station may soon be back on the air, again bombarding Bosnians with flattering portraits of the portly, silver-haired former Bosnian Serb supremo.

Hardline supporters of the indicted war criminal announced this week that they will launch a private television station, called S Channel, after the channel they used to run was taken off the air.

The new station means a return to war on the airwaves between the two Bosnian Serb factions. One group, loyal to the Bosnian Serb president, Biljana Plavsic, and based in the north-western city of Banja Luka, affects a more pro-Western stance. The other remains true to Karadzic, bitterly opposes the 1995 Dayton peace deal for Bosnia, and lurks amid the pine trees and log cabins of the ski resort of Pale, near Sarajevo.

Before war broke out between Muslims, Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslav republic in1992, Bosnia had only one, very dull, Communist-run television station. This was based in the capital, Sarajevo. Pointedly Yugoslav in coverage, its one concession to Bosnia was the wailing, vaguely Muslim-sounding theme tune for the 7 o'clock news. But as fighting escalated, most of the Serb journalists decamped from Sarajevo to Pale, taking their equipment with them.

Bosnian Serb television was born. But then the Bosnian Serbs themselves split into two camps over whether to accept the peace deal which had been brokered by the Americans in Dayton in November 1995. That brought more TV stations. Mrs Plavsic, who backed the Dayton deal, made sure the studio in her Banja Luka fiefdom declared UDI from Pale and struck out on its own.

Karadzic's cronies, in spite of the indictment of their leader before the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, kept a grip on their transmitter in Pale. Their broadcasts were only silenced in October last year after the top international mediator in Bosnia accused them of inciting hatred against the Nato-led peace force.

Long before the inter-Serb war of the airwaves started, Bosnian Serb TV had a reputation for poisonous coverage, leavened by occasional moments of bizarre hilarity.

A classic incident was in the summer of 1993, when the presenter of the evening news announced that the Bosnian Serb parliament had voted to accept the latest Western peace plan. His dramatic, anguished tone made it clear he regarded this plan as a disaster for Serbs. But it was still a surprise when he pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head. He lay slumped on the desk for several seconds, until he jerked his head up. It was a joke. "No, the Serbs are not going to commit suicide!", he announced.

Mostly, Bosnian Serb TV was no joke. Typical was the reporting in 1995 of the death of Maja Djokic, a Serb woman in Sarajevo killed in the street by an incoming Bosnian Serb shell. TV Pale picked up the story but in their "version" she was killed by the Bosnian Muslim soldiers who raped her.

"It was a channel famous for its distortions and outright lies masquerading as news reports", says Emma Daly, a former Independent correspondent and co-author of an EU report on the local media during Bosnia's local elections last September.

Karadzic's TV in Pale was in a league of its own when it came to upside- down coverage of the Serb siege of Sarajevo and the Serb atrocities committed against the Muslims of Srebrenica and other towns in eastern Bosnia.

But there is competition. The Bosnian Croats, not wishing to be left out, naturally had to have their own TV, in the southern city of Mostar. This station has escaped closure by international officials, but only just. Its reports are seen as almost as biased as those of their Serb counterparts. In Bosnia, the proliferation of TV stations means everyone can tune in to the fanatics of their choice.