10 October 2002


RSF meets with NATO leaders over bombing of RTS in 1999

Incident details

television station(s)


This is available in:

English Français

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an 8 October 2002 RSF press release:

Was the bombing of Serbia's state TV headquarters necessary?

Reporters Without Borders met with NATO Assistant Secretary General for defence planning and operations, Edgar Buckley, on 7 October 2002, to discuss the controversial bombing of the headquarters of Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) on 23 April 1999, in which 16 employees of the state-owned television station were killed.

Buckley was accompanied by NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur, who also serves as head of its press and media service, and other NATO advisers and officials. Reporters Without Borders was represented by its director, Robert Ménard, Soria Blatmann, the head of its Europe desk, and Alexandre Lévy, a journalist who has written several investigative reports on NATO intervention in Serbia.

RSF asked about the choice of RTS as a military target, the proportionality between the strategic gain and the risk for the civilian population, and the question of giving the civilian population warning of an imminent military attack "in sufficient time and by effective means," as the Geneva Conventions stipulate.

Buckley said that, like all the sites bombed, RTS was identified as a military target after a long process of discussion between the allies and after consulting with jurists. "The RTS building was chosen solely for military reasons," he told the RSF delegation.

Refusing to retract the contradictory statements made by political leaders of NATO or its member countries at the time of the bombing, Buckley nonetheless made the point that "a NATO military target is not necessarily a target of a military nature."

While deploring the civilian losses caused by the bombing, Buckley said both its strategic and tactical objectives were achieved. "We always tried to reduce the risks for civilians as much as possible when taking our decisions. Sixteen dead is too much, and we regret it," he said. Nonetheless, he said the principle of proportionality was respected.

NATO has thus far not adopted any compensatory measures for the families of the victims of the RTS bombing and it does not envisage doing so either, he told RSF.

In regard to giving a warning "in sufficient time and by effective means," Buckley reiterated that NATO gave the Milosevic regime no specific warning. "We did not warn of the imminence of this strike in order to protect the lives of our pilots and to avoid the regime establishing a human shield at the target." He declined to comment on the many reports about informal warnings of the imminent attack given to certain journalists or Serbian officials by western diplomats and military officials.

In support of their arguments, Buckley and his colleagues made several references to the committee that was entrusted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) with examining the NATO bombing campaign. In its report, which was published on 13 June 2000, the committee said that neither a full-fledged investigation into the bombing campaign nor investigations into specific incidents were justified.

"We will continue to act solely within the framework of international law" in regard to NATO's treatment of journalists and news media in time of conflict, Buckley stressed, while recognising that this was "not a fixed process, but a dynamic one."

RSF fears that the military strike on RTS could constitute a dangerous precedent, opening the way for other actions of this type against news media in future conflicts. The organisation has therefore decided to formally ask the International Committee of the Red Cross to define or elaborate its position on the role of news media and journalists in times of conflict.


Reporters Without Borders
47, rue Vivienne
75002 Paris, France
rsf (@) rsf.org

Fax:+33 1 45 23 11 51

IFEX members working in this country 1

More from Serbia
  • Serbian Media Scene vs. European Standards, Report based on Council of Europe's Indicators for Media in a Democracy, 2012

    The report points out that the blind spot of the Serbian media system are informal alliances of ruling political forces and big industrial and commercial businesses which are allowed to infiltrate the media in a non-transparent way and fulfill through them the common interests of the state and the businesses.

  • Freedom of the Press 2017: Serbia

    Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and allied media outlets, particularly the Informer tabloid, continued a campaign to portray investigative and critical media as foreign-backed propagandists.

  • Freedom of the Press 2016: Serbia

    In June 2015, a trial opened against four former state security officials accused of the 1999 murder of investigative journalist Slavko Ćuruvija.