AIM: start



The Media in Kosovo

Violeta Oroshi - Berishaj

The Media Today

A good thing happened. Standards were established which need to be met for Kosovo society to be able to come closer to a democratic societies and finally raise the question of its political status. Among the standards there is the obligation that needs to be met by Kosovo media, which means that in a once achieved democratic society this is what it should be like:

  • There should be a specter of private independent printed and electronic media in Kosovo, which offer access to information to all the communities on the entire territory of Kosovo.
  • There should be an independent and efficient regulatory administration for the media which strives to meet European standards established without discrimination and on grounds of merits.
  • Hate speech and every other form of harassment should be condemned by political leaders, regulatory authorities for the media and commentators in the media.
  • Publicly financed media should devote full and proportionate part of their resources and publications to all ethnic communities.

In other words, if Kosovo media, printed or the ones that broadcast radio and TV program in Albanian and Serbian language had applied these standards, there certainly would not have been any "Standards for Kosovo". No further comment is necessary.

Almost all printed media in Kosovo with high circulation have the designation "national" or "independent" in their sub-title. Some of them are, but mostly, mildly speaking - they are not. The editorial conception of the media is obvious and more or less recognizable (we are not with "those", but we are with "these"), but there is no ethical code which every editorial team should have and which should be respected by all the journalists. That is why concepts of "freedom of speech", "freedom of the media" and "professionalism" are often confused. That is why by "freedom of speech" they often mean "freedom" to libel, insult or accuse without sufficient arguments. Or, as it has lately become customary - before court decision is pronounced, judgment is passed whether a witness in some major trial (especially for crimes) is competent or not. On the other hand, it is indicative that neither press with high circulation nor electronic media carry commentaries or articles against the committed crime.

One could say that independent press such as is known in Western democracies, still has not taken root in Kosovo. There are certain endeavours and attempts, especially as far as two major dailies, Koha ditore and Zeri are concerned, but it seems that it is going to be a very bumpy road and that it will take much more time, a better editorial cadre, and higher education and more experience of journalists, in order to be able to say that Kosovo really has independent press.

The situation in electronic media is even more nebulous. Public TV Kosovo (General Director Agim Zatriqi), Koha Vizioni (owner: Veton Suroi), and TV 21 (owner: Aferdita Saracini) are three TV stations with the highest rating. RTK operates according to a consensus ("don't criticize anybody - speak only well of everybody").

Apart from its information program, TV 21 is mostly known for its entertaining program and Latin American series, while Koha Vizioni which prepares the smallest part of its program (its considerable part are programs taken over from private TV stations in Albania), is trying to increase its popularity with topics which are more or less successfully investigated by journalists and which are often highly speculative. Good or bad, remains the question, but if you look at the Standards for Kosovo, all three editorial boards will have to find ways and space for critical commentaries, especially in cases of "hate speech" or harassment of a person regardless what ethnic community that person belongs to, especially because TV is the most popular media. To this day, however, nothing of the kind could be heard on any of them

Why is the situation in Kosovo media like this?!

This is a question that might have answers, but there are certainly no excuses for it. Several times in the past 14 years journalists in Kosovo have experienced things that have not happened to the media anywhere else in the world. First, in 1990, the authorities in Serbia interrupted broadcasting of Radio and TV Pristina in Albanian language, and then shut down the only daily in Albanian language, Rilindja. More than 1500 journalists and other employees were dismissed. In June 1993, the Assembly of Serbia took over complete proprietary control over the home of the Press. In the meantime, there were several attempts to break the media darkness in Kosovo. In 1990, publication started of the first private weekly Koha which was registered in Croatia, but at the beginning of the wars in Slovenia and Croatia, printing of this weekly was also interrupted. The dismissed journalists of Rilindja started a new daily called Bujku. A few other dailies and weeklies were also founded; Koha ditore, Bota sot, and Kosova sot, were among them.

Media outlets were financed thanks to foreign publications which were profitable, and with the aid of foundations and western governments. AIM also gave a contribution. In his book "Civil Resistance in Kosovo (p. 111), British author Howard Clark, among other, states the following: "Founded in October 1992, AIM (Alternative Information Network) was a consistent source of information and interpretations. It had Albanian, Serb and mixed correspondents in Kosovo"… At the time the regime in Serbia "tolerated" only printed media outlets.

Just before NATO bombing in 1999, a new campaign of punishing the media in Kosovo was launched. Daily Kosova sot was attacked because it published a new year's calendar with pictures of members of the Liberation Army of Kosovo (OVK). The next on the list was Gazeta Shqiptare, and then Koha ditore's turn came. Other printed media met with the same destiny. They either agreed to pay high fines or their publishing was interrupted. During bombing, the equipment of all editorial boards was destroyed by Serbian forces, and the printing works of Kosova sot and Koha ditore were set on fire. Distrust of "others" increased even more, and became an excellent basis for the survival of nationalism and chauvinism.

After the deployment of OUN Mission in Kosovo, media outlets started to spring up very quickly practically from ashes. The ones that had existed were forced to re-establish their infrastructure, and new conceptions. Daily Bujku restored its old name Rilindja, but it lasted a very short time. Since it used to be financed from the state budget, Rilindja could not go back to what it used to be. It could survive only as a private media outlet. Its management, with no experience in providing financial support from foreign donors, came out the loser. It also had great competition in the market.

When speaking of the printed media with high circulation and major electronic media in Kosovo, it is a fact that to this day they still cannot survive without the aid of donors. It is true that donors are less and less present in Kosovo and that they insist that the media begin operating on their own as quickly as possible. Newspapers with high circulation manage to provide a part of resources from sales, but the situation is the hardest in electronic media. Public RTV Kosovo will provide a portion of the money from subscription fee (3.5 euros charged every month with electric power or telephone bills). They will make another part from marketing, and the third from the budget of Kosovo. However, the donors will have to continue to help this public RTV, among other because it prepares programs in four languages: Albanian, Serbian, Bosniac and Roma. TV Koha Vizioni and TV 21 still survive mostly thanks to donations.

They still have to "share" the profit from marketing (which is not very big) with public RTK. Special projects and foreign programs bought cheap prolong the life of these two local TV stations for as long as they do not find a better possibility. In any case, although not to the extent of RTK, they have financial support of a certain number of donors, if for no other reason, because of the need to have more than one media broadcasting program in Kosovo. It is also possible to get donations from the budget of almost all the offices of Western European countries opened in Kosovo (which have an allocated budget for the media), as well as from a few known donors' organizations (Press Now, OSI, Medienhilfe, Swedish Helsinki Committee…). Ever since the arrival of its mission in Kosovo in 1999, OSCE has helped in the renewal of media infrastructure (e.g. RTK), and was open and gave donations to the media which aim at professionalism and multiethnicity and projects that aspire to raise the level of professionalism.

It is also a fact that a number of Western offices donate money only to a certain number of media which they believe might be influential, and others donate for small media projects especially the ones which wish to achieve multiethnic and professional journalism.

RTK (Radio Television Kosovo) does not wish to be considered as the successor of Radio TV Pristina (RTP). At least that is how its current status is defined by the international staff in charge of the media in Kosovo. It started broadcasting radio program on September 19, 1999 in Albanian, Serbian and Turkish. The program was started (with the help of OSCE) by journalists and editors of RTP and new young people who were just starting to work in this profession. Broadcasting of TV program started somewhat later. The journalists (of Albanian ethnic origin) who were not given the opportunity to return to the media outlet they originally belonged to are expecting from the institutions of Kosovo to resolve this problem. They are trying to prove their ownership rights in court. They appeal on the citizens not to pay the subscription for RTK… All they have is high hopes. They are left without their jobs, without pensions, although many of them have earned them. Former workers of RTP are the only ones who have a trade union which is nowadays active.

Just in the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, two associations of journalists were founded in the past four years. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo that had existed before 1999 continued its activities, but there are very few journalists in it who had founded it. The foundation of the Federation of Journalists of Kosovo and the Association of Independent Journalists in a way illustrate the confusion on the media scene of Kosovo. Not because there are so many associations, but for the fact that journalists who are their members shifted from one organization to the other, although there are hardly any differences between them conceptually.

The Association of Professional Journalists is mostly supported by IREX through joint projects (gatherings, seminars), but a few other donors' organizations, as well. But despite everything, this Association has not managed to become a full member of IFJ (International Federation of Journalists) but just its associated member, which means that some other conditions still need to be met. This association has also received a donation to engage lawyers who will defend in court journalists free of charge, although at the annual granting of awards for the journalist of the year, it has "invented" the award for the "least professional journalist" which was compared by most of the journalists as a "call to lynch" or the so-called "ideological and political differentiation" (conducted in Kosovo in the end of the nineties). "This organization should defend journalists, not attack them. Editorial boards have mechanisms for the elimination of unprofessional behavior"… These were the most frequent comments. The result was discontinuation of cooperation of a number of the media with the Association of Professional Journalists.

Together with OSCE, the office of the Interim Commissioner for Media is working on the introduction of the ethic code for journalists in printed media. They are assisted by a team of about ten local representatives of the media and persons considered to be experts on the media. The code will not have the character of some "law on the media", but the media outlets that accept it will also accept possible consequences of violating it. It is still not certain that all the printed media in Kosovo will accept the ethic code that will soon be passed, but it is certain that it will be the first step in the efforts to ensure that Kosovo gets a sound foundation for the aspiration towards professionalism and independent journalism. Indeed, their further behavior will condition the speed of meeting the "Standards for Kosovo", that is, the contribution to the creation of a tolerant society.

Depending on how ready or more precisely how brave the media outlets are nowadays to introduce essential changes into their editorial policies, they will win a new generation of readers and listeners. Or perhaps it all still depends greatly on their estimate whether time has come for it or not, or their estimate how influential their media are.

If only some of the elements are taken into account, even such as they are the media are very influential. First, the level of education of the population of Kosovo is not that high, which means that their chances to create their own opinion are seriously reduced. Second, it is still unpopular to state a "different opinion", which means that the level of fear is still very high. The developments of 1999 and the misfortune the inhabitants of Kosovo have experienced are often used for stirring up emotions and maintaining tensions…

There is no law on the media because there was no consensus about it. Some believed that it was necessary, others that it is not. Nevertheless, it is expected that it will be passed before the forthcoming general elections scheduled for October 23. Apart from some minor fines paid by some local media for impropriety and use of hate speech (pronounced by the Interim Commissioner for the Media); it all comes down to rare warnings.

On February 1, 2000, Bernard Kouchner (head of the Civil Mission in Kosovo 1999-2000) passed a decree 2000/4 by which he officially introduced the criteria of behavior and the sanctions for the media which use hate speech. After the murder of a an ethnic Serb employed by UNMIK who daily DITA (which is not published any more) had written about as a person involved in war crimes against ethnic Albanians and even published his address, Kouchner declared: "Today I feel like a Serb". Very soon after this murder, the Interim Commissioner for the Media, based on Kouchner's two decrees, passed two regulations (2000/36, 2000/37), that printed and electronic media were supposed to enforce. Among other, they include sharp punitive measures, both pecuniary and imprisonment for those who do not accept the listed principles. However, it seems that these regulations have not been broadly implemented to this day. From the very beginning (more precisely before they had come into force in June 2000) they caused resistance of the representatives of the media, especially after Kouchner's decision to interrupt the publication of daily DITA as a punitive measure. "That is exactly what Serbian authorities used to do", they commented in the media.

And finally, there have been no cases of journalists pressing charges against somebody, nor has a journalist ever been charged.

On the other hand, however, there are quite a few journalists who say that they cannot properly discharge their duties, especially when they are engaged in the so-called investigative journalism.

According to the latest research of the Department for the Media of OSCE carried out in 2001, that is, based on a poll conducted among 75 journalists of both ethnic Albanian and Serb origin, 39 per cent of them were exposed to various threats in their attempts to investigate a certain topic; 19 per cent declared that they were physically threatened, 9 per cent that that they were threatened by local officials, the same percentage of them complained about obstacles, and 7 per cent stated that they were victims of direct physical attacks, 46 per cent claimed that they were threatened by public figures, politicians or their representatives, 33 per cent have received anonymous threats, and 12 per cent were exposed to threats of certain groups of organized crime. The only results of the investigation, however, were these statistical data and the conclusion that journalists belong among the least protected professions in Kosovo.

If all these elements are taken into account, it can be established that a part of the media in Kosovo are in a specific and hopeless crisis, but also that a small part of them have a good opportunity to become truly professional and independent, that they are in the service of citizens, and not certain political groups or individuals. Foreign donors will certainly wish to assist them in this effort, but they will also increasingly seek justification for the invested money.