NATO Bombing of Serbian TV Station Killed 16 Journalists 25 Years Ago

On April 23, 1999, NATO bombed the headquarters of Serbian state TV, killing 16 journalists. This attack raised questions about protecting media in conflicts, with victims' families still seeking justice.

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NATO Bombing of Serbian TV Station Killed 16 Journalists 25 Years Ago

NATO Bombing of Serbian TV Station Killed 16 Journalists 25 Years Ago

On April 23, 1999, NATO forces bombed the headquarters of Radio Television of Serbia (RTS), the main state-run broadcaster in Yugoslavia, killing 16 journalists and media workers. The attack was part of NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against President Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War.

The missile strike on the RTS building in central Belgrade occurred shortly after 2 a.m. Sixteen RTS employees, including a makeup artist, cameraman, production designer, and three security guards, were killed in the bombing. Two others were seriously injured and 17 were slightly hurt. The bodies of two victims have never been found.

NATO justified the attack by claiming that RTS was part of Milosevic's "war machine" and a legitimate military target, accusing it of spreading propaganda. However, the bombing was strongly condemned by human rights groups and media organizations. Amnesty International described it as a war crime, arguing that the TV station was not a valid military objective.

Why this matters: The NATO bombing of RTS raised serious questions about the targeting of media outlets during armed conflicts. It highlighted the need for clearer international laws and standards to protect journalists and media workers in war zones.

In 2002, the Belgrade District Court sentenced RTS director Dragoslav Milanovic to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate the building despite warnings of a possible NATO attack. However, the victims' families have urged Serbian authorities to also investigate and prosecute Yugoslav-era officials who they believe bear responsibility for not evacuating the RTS staff to a backup location.

On the 25th anniversary of the bombing, the victims' families and media organizations in Serbia held commemorations to honor those killed in the attack. "NATO committed a war crime by attacking a media house and killing RTS employees who were only doing their job," said Zarko Trebjesanin, head of the Commission Investigating Murders of Journalists, at a memorial ceremony in Belgrade.

Key Takeaways

  • On April 23, 1999, NATO bombed the RTS headquarters in Yugoslavia, killing 16 media workers.
  • NATO claimed RTS was part of Milosevic's "war machine," but the attack was condemned as a war crime.
  • The bombing raised questions about protecting journalists in conflicts, leading to calls for clearer laws.
  • In 2002, the RTS director was sentenced for failing to evacuate, but officials were not prosecuted.
  • On the 25th anniversary, victims' families and media groups commemorated the attack as a war crime.