Sanctions for the Media?!

Zijadin GASHI

MON, 17 APR 2000

Pristina, 29 March, 2000 - After the end of the war, an eruption of new media occurred in Kosovo, both printed and electronic ones. Like in other post-war countries and their transitional period, it seems that it is believed in Kosovo that everybody can own a media. So far in Kosovo the total of 54 printed media have been registered, dailies, weeklies and periodical ones. There are seven dailies, but it is possible that with the approaching elections, not only on the local level but primarily the general elections next year, new ones will also appear. Although not with very high circulation, the main dailies do not lack money. The once most popular Koha ditore is now sold in only five to six thousand copies. Zari and Kosova sot, which are considered to be independent and which have a very similar editorial policy, are sold in approximately the same number of copies each. There is also an abundance of electronic media. On the territory where two million people live, 60 radio and TV stations have applied for channels, 40 are still considered by the responsible department for allocation of channels of the OSCE, and only 15 have actually got channels so far. Six KFOR's radio stations and one UNMIK's also broadcast their program. According to available information they alone spend 3.5 million dollars a year for preparation of the whole-day program. International donors have invested enormous sums of money into media in Kosovo, so that at least for the time being media are not concerned about financial matters, or more precisely, some of them already have money for next two or three years.

The biggest number of media is printed or broadcast their program in Albanian language. Two newspapers are printed in Bosniac language in Prizren: Kosovski Avaz and Selam, as well as one newspaper in Turkish. In the northern part of Mitrovica Novo jedinstvo is published, a paper in Serbian which is a successor of Jedinstvo which was after the Second World War printed in Kosovo as the only daily in Serbian language. Only Radio Kontakt broadcasts program in Serbian, along with its program in Albanian and Turkish. At the moment 30 journalists and other staff work in this editorial board. Programs in languages of minority communities are also broadcast by international radio stations, that is by those organised and financed by members of KFOR. A daily in Serbian is in preparation as well as a radio station in Gracanica. International donors are highly interested in investing into media in other languages, but a project is needed for that. There is very little initiative for that among members of minority, least of all the Serb community.

The question which is arising for quite some time is how the media are covering certain events in Kosovo, how professional they are and what the media are like in general and, of course, what the public in Kosovo can learn from them. Judging by frequent criticism coming from the UN civilian mission, KFOR and OSCE, it seems that there are plenty of complaints and they range from those referring to minor imprecision to false and unverified information. But even more than that...

"Irresponsible and inflammatory press is continuing to mar the image of media in Kosovo", it is said in one of the latest OSCE statements on media addressed to the public. This organisation, one of the pillars of UNMIK seems to have started seriously warning the media in Kosovo about the danger threatening them in case they failed to implement the Decree 4/2000 adopted and signed by civilian administrator Bernard Kouchner. This decree bans stimulating and spreading interethnic hatred, spreading untruths or blemishing the reputation of public personalities, and not only them by media. It is also said that even individuals - politicians, every one in public affairs, even teachers, will be punished if they contribute to unstabling the situation with their statements. Possible punishments range from fines to prison. But nobody has actually been punished yet.

The greatest part of disagreements and criticism coming from competent international officials referred to publication of the revealed lists of persons of Serb ethnic origin who were called-up during the war in Kosovo. In the local press these lists are published in negative context, that is, it is underlined that these persons participated in crimes in Kosovo and it is claimed that they are all criminals. What OSCE, KFOR and UNMIK insist on is that such lists should not be published by the press, at least not in the way it is done because guilt has not been proved in court and at the same time they appeal on witnesses to give their official statements on possible involvement of the recognised persons in crime. However, threats from the OSCE media department intensified after the article in Koha ditore in which the correspondent from Mitrovica stated that former civilian administrator for this city was removed from duty because "it was found that he was bribed". Kouchner angrily rejected this accusation and expressed disappointment that such an article had been printed by Koha ditore. He used the opportunity and put writing of Kosovo press on the agenda for discussion of the Interim Administrative Council of Kosovo. After the meeting, Albanian representatives did not spare Kouchner either. Rexhep Qosja, member of this executive body criticised Radio TV Kosovo for "half-truths and false presentation of facts", the editorial policy mostly created by persons appointed by the international representatives from countries of the greatest donors, in this case Switzerland.

One of the complaints OSCE is addressing to the media in Kosovo refers, as this organisation put it, to facts "based on relevant and confidential sources which should not be confused with commentaries of the editorial board". According to this organisation, the wrong approach to media is "harmful for the work of OSCE in development and democratisation of journalism", as it is stated in a considerably critical statement. In its public letter, OSCE also states the following: "Nowadays there is the Decree against rousing hatred in statutes of Kosovo, as well as in some countries of Europe, but the last step in democracy is to send a paper, an editor, a radio, TV station or a journalist to court".

When the mentioned decree was passed, there was quite a lot of criticism and disagreement among the domestic public, among journalists (mostly gathered around the just established Union of Journalists of Kosovo), among analysts of political trends. It was claimed, among other, that the decree was re-introduction of the verbal delict. Adem Demaqi, known political and public figure and recipient of the Saharov award for freedom of thought and speech, declared on the occasion of passing of the decree: "If Mr. Kouchner insists on implementing this decree, the prisons will be so crowded with thousands of people that there will be no room for all".

Although Kouchner’s decree which resembles a political declaration more than a legal regulation, without any doubt can be subject to criticism, judging by the prevailing national romantic speech (which in certain papers, such as Bota sot, turns into open nationalistic hate speech), one cannot but conclude that after all this time the critics are not right.

But not a single media has been punished yet. One of the reasons for that is that courts have not begun work yet. OSCE has for a long time considered drafting a law on information but this has not been done to this day. A possibility is also mentioned of giving up on this idea because there is no wish to create rumours or introduce censorship. When Kosovo is concerned, in the field of information two things are missing: the law and the court. However, it seems that much more profound things are at stake.

Kosovo has never had that many journalists like nowadays. However, it seems that they are either "old" journalists who are having difficulties adapting to the new, open, critical journalism, or a large number of inexperienced journalists who are in this profession for just a few months, with inadequate theoretical and practical training. Characteristics of the media in Kosovo will be fully revealed in the forthcoming period. Although many of them are trying to prove with their editorial policies that they are independent, it is still early to speak about objective and unbiased journalism in Kosovo. Political processes still lie ahead: registration and census of the population, political struggle within the ethnic Albanian political movement, and finally elections. The coming period will show how the press will be positioned, that is, whether there is independent press. On this basis it will be easy to conclude what the journalistic potential of Kosovo will be like in the future. To what extent it will affect the democratic processes, stabilisation of the security situation, tolerance among various communities… Until then, OSCE and civilian mission in Kosovo will not want to create tensions. Their representatives are already talking with certain editorial staffs both in printed and in electronic media and offering their help in training of journalists to follow the election process and the process of registration as professionally and as neutrally as possible. What is quite certain is that the public opinion in the current circumstances in Kosovo and media will be what local media and those that back them decide.

Original article