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The apparent murder in Istanbul of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi raises an old question: who kills journalists?
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, media workers are most at risk at the hands of dictatorships. This may be, to those who spare time to think about it, predictable. Media are enemies of the political lies that underpin every tyrannical regime known to modern times.
A notable example of the targeting of journalists is still remembered in the Balkans: the NATO bombing of Radio Television Serbia (RTS), in Belgrade, on the night of April 23, 1999. That military action left 16 members of the RTS staff dead.
The RTS bombing was considered a legitimate item on the list of NATO actions to curb the genocidal adventurism of Slobodan Milosevic, which had destroyed the former Yugoslavia. The media enterprise served as a mouthpiece of the Serb ruler as he indoctrinated his fellow-citizens in the now-familiar post-Soviet diet of ethnic incitement, glorification of terrorism, and disinformation.
But the RTS episode has a backstory that illustrates dramatically the impact of "mediaphobia" on contemporary events.
The families of the dead RTS workers have claimed for years that Serb authorities deliberately failed to warn the media employees of imminent action against RTS. The intent, according to the relatives of those killed, was to present NATO as specifically attacking civilians.
In addition, Milosevic and his cronies distrusted RTS and other domestic media for their uneven but persistent habit of exposing the corruption and competition between the rival cliques that form the Belgrade elite.
Serbia is a nation with a history of gangster politics. In 1903, king Aleksandar Obrenovic and his wife, Queen Draga, were massacred in a public orgy of brutalization.
Serbia organized the 1914 Sarajevo terrorist plot that began the first world war.
With the formation of Yugoslavia after that war, Serb political criminality continued; the apostle of democracy in Southeast Europe, Croatian leader Stjepan Radic, was assassinated in the Yugoslav parliament in 1928.
Disregard for the security of the highest public figures is accompanied, in the Serbian political context, with contempt for culture, and especially for media, a profession which is more intellectual than visceral.
The outstanding Croatian writer and founder of the Yugoslav Communist movement, Miroslav Krleza, was never purged by Marshal Josip Broz Tito. But during the 1930s Krleza was threatened with murder by Yugoslav Stalinists.
The very great Serbian poet and translator Branko Miljkovic died in 1961 in suspicious circumstances, after exiling himself from Serbia to Croatia.
Danilo Kis, a classic of literary modernism, known as a successor of Jorge Luis Borges in his innovative metafiction, and praised by Philip Roth and Susan Sontag, was brutally harassed by the Serbian authorities.
Most characteristically, at the beginning of the NATO intervention in Kosovo, Slavko Curuvija, a leading figure in Belgrade media, was assassinated. His death came 12 days before the fatal bombing of RTS.
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