TV control is now the battlefield in Bosnia

The SAS and American aircraft have joined in, says Andrew Gumbel in Banja Luka

A new war is being waged in Bosnia. This time it is not a fight for territory, at least not in the traditional sense, but a struggle for the hearts and minds of the Bosnian Serbs. The surprisingly large number of people taking part includes two rival factions within the Bosnian Serb body politic, their police forces, international diplomats, election monitors, peacekeepers, Pentagon strategists - and even the SAS.

The battleground is television. Anyone who has struggled over the past two months to understand the strange power struggle between the Bosnian Serb President, Biljana Plavsic, and loyalists of her predecessor, the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, need think no bigger than the small screen.

The media, television in particular, have been at the heart of their tussle. Information is so scarce in Serb-held Bosnia, and education levels so low, that whoever controls state television effectively controls the country. The media have been a consideration in every key event of the summer - from Mrs Plavsic's decision to break away in the first place, to the campaign for this weekend's municipal elections being held all across Bosnia.

So important is this struggle that the West has deployed aircraft capable of jamming TV transmissions and broadcasting substitute programmes. It also accounts for a mysterious recent shoot-out in which the SAS killed a Serb former police chief.

Mrs Plavsic first burst into the limelight by accusing Mr Karadzic and his publicly visible acolyte, Momcilo Krajisnik, of running Serb-held Bosnia into the ground through the organisation of a gangster black economy. One of her motives for speaking out looked to be the way in which she, from her power base in Banja Luka in north-western Bosnia, was being marginalised by the men from Pale, Mr Karadzic's mountain HQ above Sarajevo.

How she did know she was being marginalised? The Banja Luka television studio, which operates from the same floor in the presidency building as her office, found that its broadcasts were being withheld or tampered with by censors in Pale.

At this point she enlisted the help of the international community, swallowing her nationalist pride and selling herself as a democratic pluralist as the price for world support. And the world responded with an intriguing act: SAS members with the international peacekeeping force SFOR, swooped on two men in the north-western town of Prijedor who were wanted on war crimes charges: the first time the international community had dared to fulfil this part of its mandate under the Dayton peace accords.

It now turns out that television was an important part of their choice of prey. One of the men, killed while resisting arrest, was Simo Drljaca, the former Prijedor police chief. Through him, the Prijedor police had remained loyal to Pale; they also controlled a crucial transmission station on Kozara mountain, between Prijedor and Banja Luka.

One effect of Drljaca's death was that the Prijedor police switched to Mrs Plavsic's side, once she won over the security forces in Banja Luka itself in late August. Soon afterwards, her men took control of the Kozara transmitter and Banja Luka began broadcasting its own programmes to northern Bosnia.

The international community applauded, partly because it wants to encourage whatever political pluralism it can get in Serb-held Bosnia, and partly because Mrs Plavsic's news service was much less aggressive and overtly partisan. SFOR helped by seizing a key transmitter under Pale's control at Udrigovo in north-eastern Bosnia, and simply switching it off.

In response, Mr Krajisnik's men rounded up a band of opposition leaders who tried to seize a transmitter at Duge Njive, near Doboj; then, on the day SFOR seized Udrigovo, his supporters staged open revolts against the peacekeepers in the nearby towns of Brcko and Bijeljina, stoning soldiers and international police and destroying scores of military vehicles.

Throughout, Pale television pulled no punches. It dubbedSFOR "SS-FOR" and screened tampered footage appearing to show international officials beating up and mistreating Serbs. SFOR temporarily lost its nerve and agreed to hand back the Udrigovo transmitter - on two conditions: Pale should stop the gratuitous attacks on its reputation and should grant opposition parties an hour of air time each day in the run-up to the elections.

Pale has only half-respected this agreement. On the night it regained control of Udrigovo it showed tongue-in-cheek footage of SFOR soldiers stroking doves one minute, then releasing and shooting them the next.

The international community's latest move has been to station three aircraft in Brindisi, southern Italy, capable of scrambling television pictures and broadcasting others. According to SFOR sources, this is a clear message to Mr Krajisnik: either broadcast what you have agreed to, or we will broadcast Mrs Plavsic's television in its place.

If the international community hoped that the TV war would ease some of the political censorship on the air, it has to some extent been vindicated. In Mrs Plavsic's sphere of influence, election campaign coverage has not only been less venomous but also remarkably indulgent in giving air time to all parties.

"I've visited 38 private radio stations and all but one is giving free air time to the SDA, the Muslim nationalist party," said Fabio Gergolet, a spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is organising the election. "This would have been absolutely inconceivable two months ago."

These are early days in the war. No similar process has yet occurred in Muslim- or Croat-controlled areas. But the international community at last seems to have an effective strategy: "We had to start in Serb Bosnia," one official said. "After all, they were the ones who started the war."

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?