A joke, a shot, a pool of blood

To date, 75 journalists have died in the war in the former Yugoslavia. Why? The BBC's John Simpson explains
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The Independent Online
It took some time to get John Schofield's body back from the Croatian military authorities after he was shot and killed last week. They denied all responsibility for his death. They blamed rogue elements of the Croatian Serb forces. Why Serbs should have torched Serbian houses, worn Croatian army uniforms, admitted that they were Croats and summoned up a Croatian army ambulance to take John to hospital, the Croatian military did not explain.

Nor did it elaborate on its reasons for blaming John for being there in the first place with an out-of-date Croatian pass - as though possession of an expensive little oblong of cardboard that no-one ever asks to see would in some way have protected him from a high-velocity bullet in the neck.

The Foreign Office has asked the Croatian authorities to investigate John's killing, but no one supposes anything will be done.

In this particular war between 54 and 76 journalists have been killed: the imprecision arises partly because a number of ancillary people - locally hired translators, drivers and assistants - are sometimes counted in. These figures are on a par with those for Vietnam, and are approaching the scale of the Second World War. The question is: why should the former Yugoslavia be so dangerous for journalists?

For a start, there are so many more news organisations nowadays. Anyone who fancies his or her skills with a camera or a pen can get there quickly and cheaply, and the bigger companies can afford to send many more people than they would if the war were farther away. The Holiday Inn in Sarajevo swarms with journalists at present, and the management has had to clean up derelict rooms as high as the ninth and 10th floors to accommodate everyone. In the lobby of the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb there are usually small mountains of television gear, as some new team arrives or leaves. The bar of the Hotel Split is doing better business than it ever has before.

I have covered various wars in my time but this one is more unpredictable than most. It is more reminiscent of Afghanistan, with its roving bands of mujaheddin, than anything else. Even wars in Africa tend to be safer for journalists to cover.

What is happening in the former Yugoslavia is a very primitive process. It is essentially a Third World conflict, rendered more complicated by the fact that there are three main armies, and the remnants of several rebel units. The difference between the small groups of soldiers you encounter on the road and freebooting bandits can seem very slight indeed. Often they can be bought off with a few cigarettes. Sometimes they want your money-belt. Unless they are drunk, which tends to happen in the afternoons, the soldiers usually treat you in friendly enough fashion. But if there is fighting, they show little discipline. They know that they are unlikely to face any problems if they shoot an inconvenient witness.

This, I take it, is why John Schofield died. He and his companions from BBC World Service Television were driving along and chanced upon Croatian soldiers burning houses beside the road. If John, as a radio reporter, had been alone, he needn't have stopped: merely to have slowed down would have been enough to show him what was going on, and his armoured vehicle would have protected him against any possible warning shots. But his television colleagues had to get pictures. Adam Kelleher, the cameraman he was with, is a brave man who has worked extensively in war zones both for television and for newspapers as a writing journalist: not the sort of person to take foolish risks.

The trouble is, television is nothing without pictures, and to get the pictures the team was obliged to stand out in the open. The flak jackets they wore were only a partial protection. Panicky soldiers, guilty about what they were doing and unwilling to have it seen, fired at the group and killed John.

His colleagues back in London began the long, instinctive post-mortem that always follows these things: was he too young, too inexperienced, too unprotected, too pressured? A print journalist interviewed by one of the news agencies blamed the rapacious editors back home, who (he assumed) demanded more and better pictures, regardless of risk.

It all seemed very mistaken. For a start, John Schofield would have been 30 next month, and had reported from some of the more dangerous parts of the former Yugoslavia before. As for the notion that the BBC's editors urged its journalists on to further risk-taking: ludicrous.

In war-zones, the corporation becomes distinctly nannyish. We had the first armoured vehicles in this war, and still have more and better ones than anyone else. British newspapers, in particular, were shamefully slow in providing their staff with protection. When I said in print that I had given up wearing a flak jacket in Sarajevo because the citizens there didn't have them, I received an immediate letter of rebuke from the BBC bureaucracy: it was dangerous, I was setting a bad example, and so on. Editors are always anxious to assure you that nothing, and certainly not their news bulletin, is worth getting hurt for.

Instead, the pressure to go farther is an internal one; it comes from yourself. And since this is not a war with clearly defined front lines, it is very hard to tell when you are starting into difficulties. Life is not like the cinema; no sinister music plays to indicate that you are in serious danger. The sun shines, the soldiers wave pleasantly, you joke. Then the shooting starts, and someone is lying in a pool of blood.

The uncomfortable fact is that covering a war is risky. When every ill-trained militiaman carries a high-velocity weapon there can be no real safety. The only precaution is to send fewer people to war zones. Statistically, the chances that they will be killed or injured would presumably be lower. But there is no guarantee.

John Schofield was one of the best of the younger generation of BBC journalists; bright, resourceful, charming, ambitious. You cannot really nanny such people to the point where they will never be in danger.

The writer is foreign affairs editor of the BBC.

The dead in former Yugoslavia

June 1991 - August 1995

In the Slovene war

1 & 2 Nick Vogel and Norbert Werner

(Freelances) 28 June 1991

In the Croatian war

3 Egon Scotland (Suddeutsche Zeitung - Munich) 26 July 1991

4 Stjepan Penic (Glas Slavonlje - Osijek) 4 August 1991

5 Gordan Lederer (Croatian Television HTV - Zagreb) Fatally injured 9 August 1991

6 Zarko Kaic (Croatian Television HTV - Osijek) 28 August 1991

7 Djuro Podboj (Croatian Television HTV - Osijek) 29 August 1991

8 & 9 Victor Nogin and Gennady Kurenoi Last seen 3 September 1991

10 Nikola Stojanac (Croatian Television HTV - Zagreb) 15 September 1991

11 Pierre Blanchet (Nouvel Observateur - France) 19 September 1991

12 Damian Reudin (Radio Suisse Romande - Switzerland) 19 September 1991

13 Peter Brysky (Freelance) 6 October 1991 14 Milan Zegarac (Vecernje novosti - Belgrade) 7 October 1991

15, 16, 17 & 18 Zoran Amidzic, Bora Petrovic, Dejan Milicevic (TV Belgrade) and Sreten Ilic (Radio Sabac) 9 October 1991

19 Jusuf Cehajic (Vecernje novosti - Belgrade) 12 November 1991

20 Bodislav Marjanovic (Freelance) 16 November 1991

21 Pavo Urban (Freelance) 8 December 1991

22 Zivko Krsticevic (WTN - USA) 30 December 1991

23 Christian Wuertenberg (Freelance ) 6 January 1992

24 Paul Jenks (Freelance) 17 January 1992

In the Bosnian war

25 Kjasif Smajlovic (Oslobodjenje - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 9 April 1992

26 Salko Hondo (Oslobodjenje - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 6 June 1992

27 Jordi Pujol Puente (Avul - Spain) 17 May 1992

28 Ivo Standeker (Mladina - Slovenia) 16 June 1992

29 David Kaplan (ABC TV News - USA) 13 August 1992

30 Georg Friderich Pfuhl (FADMST - Germany) 19 September 1992

31 Tihomir Tunukovic (BBC TV - Great Britain) 1 November 1992

32 Zeljko Ruzicic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 3 February 1993

33 Guido Puletti (Italian freelance) End of May 1993.

34 Ranko Elez (Radio Foca - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 10 June 1993

35 Milos Vujovic (Serbian radio - Ilidza) 30 January 1993

36 Ljubo Kerkez (RTV Srna) December 1992

37 Sasa Lazarevic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina) 8 June 1992

38 Branko Tesanovic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina) 22 July 1992

39 Damjan Ramic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1993.

40 Zeljko Filipovic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina) 14 October 1992

41 Bego Sabanovic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina) 3 November 1992.

42 Goran Simic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1 May 1992

43 Vojko Musi (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina) 15 June 1992.

44 Haris Karadza (SAT 1 ZDF. STERN - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1992

45 Rudolf Tomic (Assembly N. Grad - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1992

46 Miroslav Kucera (Zajednica - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1992

47 Bajram Zenuni (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1 May 1992

48 Sami Sermet (Privredne novine - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1992

49 Ranko Sipovac (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina)

2 February 1993

50 Kruno Marinovic (Vecernji list - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1992

51 Mustafa Novalic (Press Center Gradacac - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1993

52 Ivica Bodnaruk (Oslobodjenje - Bosnia and Herzegovina 1993

53 Nizafeta Arifhodzic (Privredne novine - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1993

54 Mevludin Rovcanin (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina)

16 August 1992

55 Mujagic Sinan (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 19 July 1993

56 Vinko Babic (Centrotrans - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1992.

57 Suvad Alic (Vacernje novine - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1993

58 Tonci Bender (Zadrugar - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1993

59 Sead Saric (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 25 December 1993

60 Amir Begic (RTV Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 25 December 1993

61 Jakov Jurisic (Vesela sveska - Bosnia and Herzegovina 1993

62 Senad Saric (Vecernje novine - Bosnia and Herzegovina) 1993

63 John Hasek (Freelance) Died of injuries (which were sustained on 30 June 1993) 1 January 1994

64, 65 & 66 Marco Luchetta, Allessandro Ota and Dario d'Angelo (RAI - Italy) 28 January 1994

67 Brian Brinton (Magnolia News - USA) 1 May 1994

68 Francis Tomasic (Magnolia News - USA) 1 May 1994

69 Tomislav Belavic - Croatian freelance

70 Zdenko Purgar (Weekly Borovo - Croatia) Summer 1991.

71 Ivan Marsic (Radio Baranja-Osijek - Croatia) 9 June 1992

72 Dominique Lonneux (Freelance - Mexican Television) 2 June 1993

73 Tasar Omer (Milli Gazette - Turkey)

27 June 1993

74 Mohammed Hussein Navab (Keyhan - Iran) 30 August 1994.

75 John Schofield (BBC radio - Great Britain) 9 August 1995