Tony Blair (The George W. Bush Presidential Center via Wikimedia) and the ruins of RTS headquarters 8 years later ( Pino via Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

23 April 1999

On 23 April 1999, a NATO missile hit the Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) headquarters in Belgrade. The top two floors of the building collapsed while one hundred RTS employees were still working in the building. Some died instantly. Others were buried in the rubble. Altogether, sixteen civilians were killed including  three journalists, six media technicians, three security workers, a cameraman, a precision machinist, an electrician and a make-up artist.  A nearby Russian church was also seriously damaged. The interruption to RTS broadcasting was only temporary and it resumed after a break of only three hours.

Earlier the same month, NATO had informed the media that only Serbian transmitters, which were ‘integrated into military facilities,’ would be hit.  Jamie Shea, the NATO council spokesman, had also reassured journalists that NATO would ‘target military targets only.’1 The British prime minister, Tony Blair, considered such promises inconsequential and declared that the killing of the sixteen civilians had been ‘entirely justified’ because the station had been part of the ‘apparatus of dictatorship and power of Milosevic.’2 However, in another interview for a BBC television documentary, Blair admitted he had been worried that RTS video footage of the victims of allied air strikes was being relayed in the Western media and undermining support for the bombing. He appeared more anxious about the impact of RTS on countering NATO propaganda, than with any concern for its role in the Serb regime’s own news broadcasting.3 The verdict of Amnesty International was that ‘the attack on the RTS headquarters violated the prohibition to attack civilian objects… and therefore constitutes a war crime.’4


  1. ‘Serb TV Was Legitimate Target, Says Blair,’  The Guardian, 24 April 1999 online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/apr/24/balkans3
  2. Ibid.
  3. Amnesty International, ‘NATO/Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Collateral Damage of Unlawful Killings, ?’ p. 45 accessed online at url https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/140000/eur700182000en.pdf
  4. Ibid.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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