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Freedom of Speech in Kosovo

October 5, 2009

Anonymous death threats address at Jeta Xharra and to her team of journalists from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) have raised new concerns about the dependence of Kosovo’s media on a newborn political and business elite.

The threat followed the television show ‘Jeta në Kosovë’ (Life in Kosovo) produced by BIRN journalists, on government control over media outlets and the links of former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to organ trafficking of Serbian and Albanian prisoners of war.

“Former KLA leaders dominate Kosovo’s current government, so it wasn’t especially surprising that pro-government newspapers attacked Xharra and BIRN soon after our reports were published,” Michael Montgomery who contributed to the investigation wrote in an opinion piece published by the Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIR). “What was surprising was the viciousness and implicit calls to violence in some of the commentaries.”

Infopress, a government-sponsored newspaper, has said the BIRN journalists were like Serbian spies, and accused them of propaganda. A commentary in the paper said its author would be honoured to shake the hand of anyone who took responsibility to punish the BIRN journalists.

Human Rights Watch, and representatives of the international community and of diplomatic missions in Pristina are defending Xharra and the BIRN reporting team.

The government has issued a press release expressing “support for freedom of expression and the functioning of a free and independent press in the Republic of Kosovo,” but it has refused to launch a formal investigation.

The Xharra case is just the tip of the iceberg, Visar Ymeri, member of the anti-establishment political organisation Vetevendosje (Self-Determination), said in an email interview.

“Thaci’s, Kosovo PM and leader of Partia Demokratike e Kosovës (PDK), government control over media is stronger than that of previous governments. In a period that is being attacked from all sides, the government decided to fight back and chose a spot to do it. This spot is Jeta Xharra.”

“These threats are a high profile example of the daily threats and pressure placed on those opposing the government. Journalists who lose their jobs, organisations that lose their funding, phone calls made by government or international offices. This threat is not a one-off, but a symptom of a much deeper problem.”

According to Ymeri most of Kosovo’s media outlets depend on political parties and their affiliated businessmen. RTK, the public broadcaster and most influential media outlet in the country, depends on government-sponsored funds and consequently is under its partial influence.

There are two other TV stations RTV21 that usually supports the strongest party and KTV. The latter is owned by Veton Surroi, a politician who is currently critical of the government. So is Koha Ditore the newspaper with the biggest circulation. Kosova Sot, the second largest newspaper is owned by Ruzhdi Kadriu owner of large supermarkets in Pristina.

Express, another newspaper is owned by Ipko, who also controls the biggest cable TV and internet network and is the second biggest mobile network provider in Kosovo.

According to Ymeri Ipko’s close links to PDK makes it a characteristic case of the complex between political and business interests. “Dino Hasanaj, the head of Privatisation Agency Board (responsible for overseeing a long term privatization process of multiple public assets), appointed there by PDK, is said to own shares in Ipko, while there have been talks that Ipko’s CEO Akan Ismaili is going to run for Pristina Mayor on the PDK list.” he says.

Infopress is published by Rexhep Hoti, a close associate of Hashim Thaci, who publicly declares that he supports Thaci regardless of his policies; his newspaper ran the campaign against Jeta Xharra. Epoka e Re is obviously under PDK influence. Epoka e Re and Infopress get the most of governments advertisements, while being the least sold newspapers.

Lajm is owned by Behxhet Pacolli, a businessman turned politician heading the third strongest party Aleanca Kosova e Re (AKR). Zeri is owned by Blerim Shala, Aleanca për Ardhmërinë e Kosovës (AAK) vice president. AAK is the party or Ramush Haradinaj, who resigned as Kosovo’s Prime Minister in March 2005 after his indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, for 37 counts of war crimes. He was acquitted on Apr. 3rd 2008, returned to Kosovo and immediately resumed his duties as president of the party.

The tight weave among politicians, media and business interests in Kosovo plays a significant role on the tough struggle for power undergoing in the newborn republic.

Local elections will take place next November and one can spot a lot of activity with media playing a significant role in promoting various politicians but also legitimizing a widely devaluated political process according to Ymeri. “It started by getting each others members, and it is continuing by accusing each other on who is the most corrupted. This shows that the legitimacy of all the parties is in crises.” In the last elections held on 2007 only 37% voted.

“The restriction of the freedom of expression is a direct consequence of our lack of sovereignty and democracy” he said. “A Government which is accountable to unaccountable international missions, and not to its people, cannot and will not function according to democratic principles. A Government which has no sovereignty will always seek to mask this lack of legitimacy.”

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network

http://www.birn.eu.com/

Center for Investigative reporting

http://www.centerforinvestigativereporting.org/

Human Rights Watch

http://www.hrw.org/

Democratic Party of Kosovo

http://www.pdk-ks.org/advCms/index.php?id=10,1,1,1,a

Aleanca Kosova e Re

http://www.akr-ks.info/

Aleanca për Ardhmërinë e Kosovës

http://sq.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleanca_p%C3%ABr_Ardhm%C3%ABrin%C3%AB_e_Kosov%C3%ABs

Vetevendosje

http://www.vetevendosje.org/

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One comment

  1. Situation of media and freedom of speech in Kosovo is really catastrophic and like in Russia and China. This rapports clearly reflect the serious threats and tourtures that happening everyday against journalists, media and independent political activists who working for freedom of speech and expresion.



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