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the newspaper guild and yugoslavia
Author Steve Zeltzer
Date 99/08/15/02:11
Hit Count 298

From: David Bacon, dbacon@igc.org

The following letter appeared as an oped in the current issue of The Guild
Reporter, national newspaper of The Newspaper Guild

U.S. JOURNALISTS FAILED IN YUGOSLAVIA
By David Bacon, Northern California Guild

I've been wondering for some time what we, as a union, have to say about
the war in Yugoslavia. Your article, "Bombing ends, question remains:
who's a reporter?" was very helpful. I particularly appreciated its
description of the vote taken in the Guild's sector conference, and how
isolated our union's position has become from the overwhelming opinion
among the rest of the world's journalists. It is a position even isolated
from our own roots -- Heywood Broun would not have been proud of the
Guild's failure to condemn the bombing.

Your article covered a hard subject for a union newspaper -- one in which
there is obvious political disagreement within our organization. You gave
a clear sense of the difficulties for President Foley in acting as a
representative of the union while remaining true to her own beliefs. Many
union newspapers would simply have viewed the situation as too
controversial and said nothing -- that's actually what most of them have
done. The Guild Reporter should be congratulated for its courage and
fairness.

Like Aidan White of the International Federation of Journalists, I regret
profoundly that we did not speak up for the lives of journalists in
Belgrade, killed in the bombing of the Serbian television transmission
tower, or the lives of the two journalists then killed in the bombing of
the Chinese embassy. I believe our failure to do so is a violation of the
principles we stand for -- the right of journalists everywhere to report
the news as they see it, and our responsibility to extend the hand of
working-class solidarity to defend them when they do their jobs.

To say we will only act in solidarity with journalists who advocate the
position of the U.S. government questions our own independence. We should
have protested when our government told Yugoslav journalists that it would
target them for bombing and death if their media outlets did not agree to
air the U.S. point of view. We would certainly have said something if the
roles had been reversed. Similarly, we should protest the effort to
excuse
the bombing of the Chinese embassy by calling the journalists who worked
there spies. In the long run, we will be the ones to suffer from this
lack
of solidarity. How can we expect solidarity when we need it, if we remain
silent when our government labels as "propagandists" anyone who disagrees
with U.S. foreign policy, and then kills them?

The failure to speak up for these fellow journalists reflects, I'm afraid,
an unwillingness among many U.S. media workers to probe deeply into the
causes of the war, and to be critical of our own government. Throughout
the conflict, spin doctors at NATO repeatedly used loaded phrases designed
to push the buttons of the U.S. public -- including calling attacks on
Albanians "racist," the Serbian government "fascist," and using the
analogy
of the Nazi death camps. Unfortunately, few journalists sought to examine
how appropriate these analogies were. Even fewer sought to question and
expose the government's geopolitical motivations and hypocrisy hidden by
the use of these loaded terms.

I believe our union can learn from this experience. We need to struggle
for independent international relationships, based on mutual working-class
interests, and free from the defense of U.S. foreign policy which
characterized so much of labor during the cold war. Our union also needs
to encourage members to look critically at the content of our work, as
much
as at the conditions under which we perform it. The Guild has to find
ways
to support our right to independence from the bias of the corporations we
work for, and the efforts by our own government to enforce political
conformity.

The key to independence is a culture of solidarity, helping members to
identify our common interests, not just with other journalists, but with
other workers generally, internationally and here at home.

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