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A nascent state is crippling its own press, and its future

Kosovo's flag.
Kosovo's flag.

More than two years after declaring independence, Kosovo urgently needs a free press to expose "the ills that are undermining" the country, says a new report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). "Kosovo: Still not too late for press freedom" says journalists in the new country are under threat from nationalist militants and financial pressures, and barred from accessing information, with every sphere of government attempting to control editorial decisions. RSF met with journalists and new bloggers trying to work within an ethical framework, despite the numerous political and criminal elements working against them.

Kosovo's statehood so far has won backing from 69 countries, including the US and most of the European Union (EU), say news reports. And on 22 July 2010, the International Court of Justice ruled that the country's independence from Serbia in 2008 does not violate international law. Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi has stated that he would like to see Kosovo join the EU. "But to achieve this he will need to give a more serious pledge of respect for press freedom," says RSF.

Public television is the largest media source and most influential over the population. But it is increasingly controlled by Thaçi and his governing party. A young Internet sector offers opportunities for independence but it is financially vulnerable.

Any journalist who criticises government decisions or exposes corruption is attacked by the political class, accused of being a traitor, unpatriotic or a Serbian spy. The accusations are designed to shred the credibility of journalists in the eyes of the public, and to isolate them as targets for nationalist militants.

Journalists who step out of line are advised to "discipline themselves" or risk seeing a family member lose a job or not have a contract renewed, or see their children threatened. The state is the biggest employer in this fledgling country. Newspapers that are seen as "too independent" are subjected to frequent tax investigations or prevented from accessing public data and funds. Journalists learn to self-censor as a result.

Access to information is virtually non-existent, with information unavailable on the following: financial data, water management, electricity, land development, building permits and new business premises.

Journalists themselves are vulnerable to exploitation because they have no rights, are paid so badly or not at all and work without employment contracts or insurance of any kind. As such, some earn a lucrative living by providing negative coverage of the enemies of local politicians and business leaders, says RSF. The exceptions are independent "Koha Ditore" and "Zëri" newspapers, which attempt to offer fair working conditions. They are also the only two credible newspapers in the country, resisting the pressure of government interference.

Another major issue is the absence of a strong independent advertising industry to provide financing for media diversity. "Koha Ditore" is able to hold onto its independence because it controls every stage of its production and it owns its own printers, so it is not at the mercy of an advertising market under government control. It also has great editorial flexibility and time to check the accuracy of its articles. New newspapers are occasionally launched, flush with funding but no advertising support, which attempt to lure away the most professional journalists. But RSF reports that few take up these offers because the dailies are funded by criminal elements with a particular political position.

In the broadcast sector, public radio and television Radio Televizioni i Kosovës (RTK) dominates television screens and operates under tight government control. RTK produces almost no political programmes or debates with different political points of view. RTK journalists are aware that while they interview a minister, they are also dealing with an employer. "We try to include other filming in our 'organised trips' but we know very well that we are wasting our time. We do these other interviews so as not to get out of practice in the hope that one day we will have real editorial meetings," said one RTK journalist.

Although violence against journalists is rare, a bomb exploded in the courtyard of an editor's home on 20 July, reports the International Press Institute (IPI). Caslav Milisavljevic, editor-in-chief of Radio Kosovska Mitrovica, was the target of the explosion. No one was hurt; but three automobiles were damaged.

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  • Bomb attack on radio journalist's home

    An explosive device was thrown in the courtyard of Caslav Milisavljevic's home, but fortunately no one was hurt.

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