Kosovo media debate one year after

How informative and objective was the Finnish media in the way it reported the  Kosovo conflict? The question remains a subject of controversy. In a debate published in a yearbook of journalistic criticism, two prominent analysts cross swords on the question. (Journalismikritiikin vuosikirja 2000, edited by Elina Noppari and Sinikka Torkkola, published by the Finnish Association of Mass Communication Research and Nordicom -- Nordic Information Centre for Media and Communication Research.)

The veteran columnist of the leading national daily, Helsingin Sanomat, Olli Kivinen writes that in some ways small countries are in a better position to report major conflicts. In his view, the fact that the country has no direct involvement in the conflict, makes it easier for journalists to be objective in their reporting. Kivinen says that he never ceases to be shocked by the way the American media relies on the official line of the State Department or Defence Department.

Kivinen thinks that the Finnish media faired very well in presenting the Kosovo conflict in an objective way. His opponent in the debate, Unto Vesa, a special researcher of the Tampere Peace Research Institute, disagreed. Vesa tends to agree with the ex-President Mauno Koivisto in that the Finnish media needed to rely on Western media in order to get a full picture of the aims of Western powers. Vesa notes, however, that the Western media shared many problems with its Finnish counterpart. He emphasises that in an optimal situation, the recipient of news should be able to form an objective view by following any one news channel. According to Vesa, it is the ethical responsibility of journalists – and researchers – to try to find out the truth.

“This requires a critical attitude, doubtfulness about information, ability to use many independent sources, checking and comparing information. In general, a journalist has to decide about conclusions quicker, a researcher has more time to meet the challenge.”

The debate between Kivinen and Vesa touched on many differences in interpretation of the course of the Kosovo conflict. It covered the familiar ground of whether the Rambouillet talks were ever intended to find a solution, whether Milosevic was ahistorically demonised and whether the thirst for TV footage distorted the public image of NATO’s mistakes etc. Kivinen’s views were more NATO-friendly, whereas Vesa tended to be suspicious of NATO’s conduct of the conflict.

Kivinen and Vesa also disagreed on the credibility of two well-known experts on conflicts, the Norwegian Professor Johan Galtung and the Danish Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, Jan Øberg. Vesa quoted Galtung – who is a veteran of conflict studies – as saying that democracy is based on “informed participation”. In this context Galtung has reported that none of the Norwegian parliamentarians who participated in the debate had read the Rambouillet text. Øberg, on his part, has also been urging people to study all the relevant texts.

Kivinen showed some respect to Galtung but dismissed Øberg because of the latter’s “consistently” anti-NATO views. This, in the columnist’s view, weakens his credibility in his work with the Lund-based TFF.

Both debaters, however, emphasised the importance of honest journalism. Kivinen said that he agrees with Vesa about the necessity of objectivity and the duty of the free press to constantly question all information fed to it. Vesa also mentioned the importance of offering different viewpoints. Every argument and counter-argument has to be examined in the light of available evidence. Kivinen said that every experienced journalist feels frustrated when colleagues fall for false information, whether unwittingly or out of ignorance or inexperience.


See Johan Galtung: The NATO War, The Ethnic Cleansing - Is There a Way Out?

On the TFF pages you will find many articles on the Kosovo conflict. A PressInfo piece is especially relevant in the debate about neutrality: EU Militarization: Neutrality and Democracy at stake. There is also an article by Phillip Knightley, Propaganda Wars (originally published in The Independent, 27 June 1999). Knightley is the author of First Casualty – A History of war, correspondents and propaganda. A new edition of this classic study has just been published by Prion Books. The subtitle of this edition is The war correspondent as hero and myth-maker from the Crimea to Kosovo. The book has a new introduction by John Pilger.

See also:

EU preferred to NATO on crisis management

30 November 1999

Finland urged to support UN

19 October 1999

Defence plans alarm small EU countries

16 October 1999

Aftermath of Kosovo: Europe takes military route to security

October 1999

When journalists become carriers of war by Eeva Lennon

October 1999

Can the Nordic region show the way to Kosovo?

October 1999

Ex-president criticises West's policies in Yugoslavia

31 August 1999

Non-aligned countries face problems with EU defence

13 July 1999

Non-aligned countries watch warily as NATO sidelines UN

May 1999

Finland agonises over Kosovo

May 1999

Intellectuals divided by events in Yugoslavia

27 April 1999

Balkans crisis trigers speculations about stability in the Baltic

23 April 1999


[home] [archive] [focus]