Anybody who wonders what professional international bureaucrats — a
term meant to embrace many who nominally work for the government of some
particular country but view themselves as “citizens of the world” –
really think about how the media ought to be run should take a look at
NATO plans for a Media Regulatory Commission and Media Monitoring
Division drafted for postwar (or at least post-airstrike) Kosovo. The
plan, which calls for a staff of 50 people to supervise
whatever media emerge or re-emerge in Kosovo, was drawn up by staffers
for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for
implementation by NATO.
A “senior Western official” who spoke anonymously to Steven Erlanger
of the New York Times, which ran the story this Monday, tried to be
reassuring. “The idea is not to censor anyone,” he said. “The idea is
to bring people up to Western standards, so you need to present Western
standards to observe. And it will all be done in consultation.” He
didn’t exactly conceal who the senior partner in such consultation would
be. The regulatory commission would be charged with preventing “the
abuse of the media, especially radio and television, so it can’t be used
to urge people to go out in the streets and create riots.” Meantime, of
course, the Clinton administration and its NATO partners are actively
supporting news media in Serbia proper that are urging and helping to
organize anti-Milosevic street demonstrations.
Presumably there are good street actions and bad street actions. The
model is rather similar to a scheme of licensing and regulation of
journalists pushed in the early and middle 1980s for Third World
countries by UNESCO. There also, the idea wasn’t censorship, oh, no, but
to improve coverage of Third World issues and events, which the Western
press was then accused of failing to do consistently and responsibly.
There’s already a Kosovo Media Affairs Department in Pristina charged
with allocating broadcast frequencies and the like. But the department
would like to create a Media Regulatory Commission to write and
administer a “Broadcasting Code of Practice” and a “temporary Press
Code” for print journalists, then proceed to “monitor compliance and
establish enforcement mechanisms.” The enforcement mechanisms, needless
to say, would include the power to censor material, fine journalists or
media outlets who defy the all-wise bureaucrats and order certain
journalists or stations off the air.
Something similar is already in place in Bosnia, another mini-country
being used as a testing ground for the micro-management theories to
which international bureaucrats naturally gravitate. The desire to
license, regulate and micro-manage the media in Kosovo reflects the
utopian (or dystopian, depending on your perspective) vision of
international bureaucrats and professional experts the world over.
The vision that excites these people is not one of a free society in
which peoples’ rights are protected and progress emerges from the free
interplay, interaction, innovation and transactions that people
undertake when they are free and free to profit from their activities.
Instead, the view is that a group of experts know in advance what
society should look like, control every aspect of peoples’ activities to
make sure they fit into the orderly master plan, and slap ‘em upside the
head when they get out of line.
Make no mistake, that vision is shared by most bureaucrats in the
United States who are anything other than mere timeservers drawing their
salaries until retirement. In this country the pesky First
Amendment keeps getting in the way of the bureaucratic desire to license
and control journalists, but the desire is there. It may be
disappointing to them that they can only try out their theories in small
foreign countries that have been bombed into submission, but it’s good
The fact that 90 percent or more of the media already act as if they
were another branch of the government, dutifully reporting government
handouts as if they were real news and seldom questioning government
initiatives, isn’t enough. The media sometimes fail to hop to. And there
are still a few independents, and even a few are too many.
Fortunately, some opposition to the Kosovo control scheme has
emerged. The World Press Freedom Committee, largely financed by American
publishers and the Newspaper Guild, has protested the anal control in
Bosnia and opposes making the same mistakes in Kosovo.
Ronald Koven, the organization’s European representative, laments
that “there is a kind of colonialist mentality. Foreigners are going to
impose their standards and codes of conduct on independent media
journalists in Kosovo in a situation where before the war there was a
perfectly adequate independent Albanian-language press that knew what it
was all about.”
Such protests are likely to fall on deaf ears, as in Bosnia — or
even spur the bureaucrats to renewed determination to impose their brand
of all-embracing control. If they can’t control other peoples’
lives, what earthly use is this horde of bureaucrats that float from
conference to conference, from crisis to crisis, flashing their
theoretical expertise but never having to take responsibility for the
results of their actions?
That’s a very good question none of these rascals would prefer to