Protesters pull the plug on Milosevic's cosy vision of Serbia

Battle of the airwaves: As the regime crumbles, the nation is rejecting the state media's diet of lies

"I want to live in the land of RTS," says a slogan on the streets of Belgrade. Certainly, the Serbia portrayed by Serbian Radio and Television (to give RTS its full title) seems a charmingly cosy place. Watch the television evening news and you will learn: the economy is blooming; international links are flourishing; the President is a calm and confident hand on the tiller, bringing peace and prosperity to his country. There are occasional fleeting references to the story that has dominated front pages worldwide - mass protests which have threatened the regime as never before. But the protests appear small, and the views of the opposition are never heard.

According to Belgrade, the demonstrations are, in any case, a foreign virus. Last Friday night, coverage of the protests consisted largely of a report attacking The Independent's guide to people power, published earlier in the week. The news said that publication of The Independent's "Ten Commandments" showed the demonstrations were not homegrown, but deliberately stirred up abroad.

Radio Belgrade is sometimes even more imaginative: one report talked of how a branch of the CIA hypnotised the demonstrators with black magic. The pro-government daily Politika ignores the demonstrations, or gleefully confines itself to quoting evidence of the splits in the opposition.

The style of the television news is reminiscent of old-style Communism: lots of meetings and ceremonies and few glimpses of reality. Many who once supported Slobodan Milosevic talk bluntly of "terrible lies". Every night at 7.30pm, Belgrade echoes with clangs and whistles for a full half- hour, as Serbs hang out of their windows banging pots and pans to drown out the news. "It's a nice feeling," said one Belgrader. "It helps people to feel solidarity."

Side by side with the "regime news", however, alternative voices can be heard with increasing clarity. Broadcasting from some scruffy rooms on the fifth floor of an apartment block in Belgrade, the B92 radio station has gained both fame and influence, thanks partly to the authorities themselves. The authorities last month took B92 off the air for three days, describing its broadcasts as "illegal".

B92 complained, and casually referred to domestic and international interest in B92's problems and a planned press conference. It miraculously turned out that the closedown was an unfortunate accident caused by a technical hitch.

The broadcasting authority explained: "The broadcast was stopped due to a misfunction of the transmitter. Penetration of water into a coaxial antenna cable created some interference of the transmitter and antenna system... The transmitter and antenna system are now fully operational". "Coaxial cable" has more or less become a synonym for "ludicrous excuse" in a newly sceptical Belgrade.

B92's transmitter allows its output only to be heard in part of Belgrade. Within that limited area, its audience has tripled from 300,000 to more than a million. But B92 is no longer alone. A student radio station, Index, has become enormously popular. New newspaper titles, like Demokratija, are eagerly devoured. An opposition news magazine, Vreme, once read only by a tiny minority, has doubled its circulation to 60,000. Previously timid papers have become bolder.

Veran Matic, editor-in-chief of B92, is convinced that the changes in people's thinking can no longer be rolled back, even by the violence that some still expect. He notes the contrast between the reaction to the takeover last year of Studio B, an independent Belgrade TV station, and the recent closure of B92. "When the government took over Studio B, 500 people protested. When we were forbidden, the whole world protested ... The last two months have meant more for the citizens of Serbia than the past 40 years."

B92 has also become involved with publishing, for example, translations of The Death of Yugoslavia (an authoritative history of the conflict by Laura Silber and Allan Little, to accompany the BBC series of the same name), and an account of the Srebrenica massacres in 1995. Neither book makes easy reading for Serbs; they are painfully generous with the truth.

Mr Matic acknowledges that such tough reading will not immediately be popular. "Most people here still think Serbs didn't bomb Dubrovnik and Sarajevo isn't badly destroyed, and Srebrenica was an accident. It will be difficult to change. There won't be de-Nazification here, because the Hague tribunal has not done very well. They only get the little fish."

He is sure that changes are on the way, but that state television will be the last thing to change. "It will be the last thing Milosevic will give up. He's the first East European ruler who understood the power of TV. He realised he can control society better with the TV than with the police."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
News
Williams says: 'The reason I got jobs was because they would blow the budget on the big guys - but they only had to pay me the price of a cup of tea'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee