Serbian politician angry over CNN mistake

The Leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, Tomislav Nikolic, says CNN owes him an explanation for having mistakenly used his photo in a story about the Bosnian-Serb war criminal Ratko Mladic. But some people in Serbia are sceptical over Nikolic's offenc

The fashion in Serbia today is to change one’s image. The country is trying it; and now so is the leader of the opposition party Tomislav Nikolic. He is moving away from old friends who are seen in the West as war criminals. He has formed his own political party, given it a new name and reinvented himself as a Radical good to Europe.

But while he is working so hard to create this new image – one small so-called mistake by the American broadcaster CNN could undo months of hard work. The network published an article on its website using a photograph of Nikolic but naming him as the most wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic.
“I did not think that leading world companies would make mistakes like this. This is not a small local station. For seven days the link remained on its website. CNN here has a bad reputation. When its journalists come here, we expect lies,” commented Tomislav Nikolic.

Many Serbs agree with Nikolic. They feel they lost their civil war not on the battlefield but on the TV screens. They blame Western media for never giving them a fair hearing.

“There were lots of what I would call media failures. This was partly because of stereotypes that were made at the beginning of the Yugoslavian crisis. There were journalists who didn’t do their homework before coming here and also many relied on only one source of information,” explained BBC correspondent Dorde Vlajic.

Which is why today Serbian politicians – from all sides – are doing everything they can to satisfy journalists’ hunger.

“I really don’t know what was behind this mistake. I would love to think that was a mere mistake. But there’s a problem perception. We need to overcome this problem perception. The Serbia in 2008 is very different from Serbia in the 1990s,” believes Serbian Foreign Minister Vuc Jeremic.

But for Nikolic, as much as Serbia’s changing, CNN is not:
“CNN owes me an explanation. I wanted to sue them but was told the trial would be in London and would take ten years. It would also be very expensive. They know I can’t do this,” he says.

However, some in Serbia believe that Nikolic is making too big a story of this.

“If this kind of mistake had happened six months ago, Mr Nikolic wouldn’t have minded, because Ratko Mladic six months ago was his favourite character, just like Karadzic and others who need to be in The Hague,” says Nadezda Gace, President of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia. “They were all defended by the Radical Party. But now there’s been a split within the Radical Party and now Nikolic finds it offensive because he suddenly wants to be a pro-European politician”.

CNN apologised but while the firing of guns on the battlefields has quietened down the media storm is likely to continue taking its victims for years to come.