Nicholas WoodKosovo papers defy UN
Thursday, 6 July, 2000
Newspapers in Kosovo are ignoring UN rules outlawing "naming and shaming" suspected war criminals.
Just this week the Albanian language daily, Dita, dedicated a double page spread to photographs of 15 Serbs it accuses of committing atrocities against ethnic Albanians during the 1998 civil war.
Last month Dita ran an exclusive, claiming to have found a war criminal working for the UN.
His name was Petar Topoljski. His address was given out. Within three weeks, he'd been kidnapped, and was then found stabbed to death in a village outside the capital Pristina.
Numerous similar articles have appeared in Kosovo's Albanian press in the last few months.
OSCE gets tough
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the body with responsibility for media in Kosovo, has decided to crack down.
Dan Everts, OSCE's ambassador in Kosovo, says "we have seen some very bad articles where individuals are being basically condemned, and condemned to death because they're being identified, workplace, name, everything.
"It is basically telling people 'hey, here they are and do whatever you want'. This is unacceptable."
The OSCE has now drawn up a new code of conduct for the press. But so far, the rules don't seem to be having the desired effect.
Dita refuses to back down
Dita was closed down for a week as a result of its allegations against the murder victim, Petar Topoljski.
But the first thing the editor, Behlul Becaj, did when the paper came back on the stands was to reprint the article.
He's also given an ultimatum to Bernard Kouchner, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, saying international insititutions had failed to touch war criminals so the press was obliged to name them.
Lazar Semini of the Institutie of War and Peace Reporting, a group which monitors news coverage in Kosovo, says the international community and local Albanians are deeply divided over reporting standards.
He believes that might change if Kosovo's judicial system was seen to be working.
"They're not seeing any alleged Serb war criminals sentenced, and the mentality of the people is that someone who has committed crimes should be punished.
"They think that this is morally right at a time when we're not seeing results from the international community."
Papers fear censorship
The reaction among newspaper editors to the UN's new rules has been universally sour.
Ardian Arifi, the managing editor of respected daily Koha Ditore, says a new ethnic crimes court, due to be set up by the UN in September, may allay some papers' appetite for hunting down alleged war criminals.
But in the meantime the code is being seen by editors like Mr Arifi as an unwelcome reminder of the past.
"Any kind of suppression of freedom of speech and of expression is a step backwards in Kosovo. It is a reminder of the environment in which I grew up and started working as a journalist, and it's a reminder of an environment that I would not like to go back to."
The OSCE says its code of conduct is designed only as a temporary measure. It will be scrapped once effective self-regulation can be introduced.
But Albanian papers are warning there's little prospect of finding common ground.