How did the British press report last evening’s abandoned Serbia vs Albania Euro 2016 qualifier? Nearly all made basic errors in fact, each time erring on the side of distortion.
The facts are incendiary enough
The match brawl was ignited when a drone flew into Belgrade Partizan stadium carrying a banner depicting a map of Greater Albania in the national colours. Serbian player Aleksandar Mitrovic tore down the banner but some Albanian players tried to snatch it. In anticipation of violence, only home fans were present at the fixture and some invaded the pitch, a few others hurled smoke bombs onto the pitch. Papers reported clashes between Serbian and Albanian players while Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović said “we wanted to carry on and that we shielded the Albanian players every step of the way to the tunnel.”
The match was called off by English referee Martin Atkinson. The brother of Albania’s Prime Minister, Olsi Rama – a US passport holder – was said to have been arrested after being accused of controlling the drone from his seat in an executive box in the stadium. He has since returned to Tirana to a hero’s welcome denying both the arrest and involvement with the drone.
Uefa has declared an investigation into the incident and both nations face harsh disciplinary sanctions. Serbia is skating on especially thin-ice following the 2012 U21 Serbia-England match marred by racism on the terraces and some pretty ugly media reporting.
Press drone#1: Albanian flag
Many media outlets reported the banner as depicting an “Albanian flag” which was not the case. The Balkan nation’s flag depicts a black double-headed eagle against a red rectangle. Whereas the banner depicted the same motif against a red map of Greater Albania. The media message clearly marks Serb fans as trigger-happy in the extreme, as even the sight of another country’s legitimate flag is cause for chaos.
The BBC reported:
Trouble flared when an Albanian flag and message flew above the pitch and was caught by a Serbia player.
The Mirror followed suite:
The Daily Mail reports:
A drone carrying the Albanian flag was flown in above the pitch
The Metro also obliges:
It started when a drone dropped an Albanian flag into the stadium as part of a political protest, turning the ground into a boiling pot of rage.
More of the same from the Evening Standard, written by Zoran Milosavljevic (although he does go on to correct the mistake):
Serbia v Albania abandoned: Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic distraught after clashes sparked by drone carrying Albanian flag
Sky Sports only report the benign “national symbols”:
The Guardian got it right, saying:
The black and red flag bore the Albanian insignia and a map of the notional “Greater Albania” territory…
…a flag depicting so-called Greater Albania, an area covering all parts of the Balkans where ethnic Albanians live…
Press drone#2: The map was of Kosovo
Several papers misleadingly report that the map on the banner was of Kosovo, the ethnic Albanian pseudo-state which some countries including the UK have recognised.
Blic correctly reports the map was of Greater Albania, a nationalist ambition comprising annexed chunks of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece.
The flag showed a map of Kosovo and the message ‘autochthonous’ (indigenous)
Neither does the Independent exhibit much independently-minded map checking:
Sky Sports also reports the map’s territory erroneously, although later into the article text the map is correctly reported:
Press drone #3: The greatest omission
Many papers give an insight into the reasons behind the heightened sensitivities usually culminating in NATO intervention, after which virtually all displaced ethnic Albanians could return to Kosovo. Not one mention the ethnic cleansing of most Serbs out of Kosovo. To date, hardly any have returned. The omission of this fact speaks volumes about the lazy bias in UK media outlets and government foreign policy.
NATO waged a 78-day air war in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency war.
The Telegraph tries to be even-handed but bumbles by a bit:
Nato carried out a 78-day bombing campaign which led to Serb troops pulling out of Kosovo in 1999 and brought an end to the Serbian government’s repression of the ethnic Albanian population.
Serbia says the Nato airstrikes killed 2,500 civilians, including 89 children, a figure contested by Nato.
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