A raft of secret British government documents has exposed the BBC’s extensive involvement in spreading pro-London, pro-EU, and pro-NATO messaging across the former Yugoslavia.
In February 2021, classified files revealed that BBC Media Action (BBCMA), the ‘charitable arm’ of the British state broadcaster, was embroiled in a number of clandestine operations to “weaken the Russian state’s influence,” funded by the Foreign Office.
The revelation raised serious questions about the BBC’s international reputation as a ‘neutral’, ‘objective’ purveyor of news, and what implications its murky relationship with Whitehall has for its output more widely. A further tranche of leaked files, related to clandestine British activities in the Balkans, amply reinforces that the organization serves as a cloak-and-dagger device for achieving London’s foreign policy goals.
The papers indicate that BBCMA has been operating across the region since 1996, conducting a wide variety of “media capacity-building, reform and change management” projects. Cited examples of its initiatives include “reforming [the] institutional structures” of Montenegro’s state broadcaster RTCG, working with Macedonian media to “effectively cover elections” and act as a “watchdog,” and supporting the development of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Public Broadcasting System.
The organization also targeted youth audiences in five separate Balkan countries with “an innovative multi-platform media project,” which aimed to “build young people’s capacity for civic participation.” The centerpiece was “social media-based educational web drama” #SamoKazem (Just Saying). Strikingly, viewers were directed to “offline activities to translate awareness into action for change,” strongly suggesting stirring teenagers to activism was the program’s ultimate objective.
Details of BBCMA’s extensive meddling in Serbia greatly reinforces the overtly political nature of its Balkan ventures. From 2007 to 2017 alone, it delivered “four large-scale projects” in the country, such as “a challenging undertaking” with Radio Television Serbia (RTS) over the course of two years “to assist in its transition from state to public service broadcaster,” and working to “professionalise” five local radio stations “to develop their capacity to hold local government to account.”