Monday, June 8, 2009

Free Press Threatened in Kosovo

Free Press Threatened in Kosovo
Pristina | 08 June 2009 | By Vjosa Musliu

Kosovo newspapersBIRN team investigated concerns about freedom of the press in Kosovo and discovered the media’s critical voice is being jeopardised by conflicts of interests, political and business interference and the psychological power of Omerta.

Television Journalist Jeton Llapashtica claims to have lost his job because of the questions he asked. Not because his line of inquiry was irrelevant, or his delivery poor, but because he directed “very tough questions” at Kosovo’s government spokesperson, Memli Krasniqi.

Llapashtica alleges he was fired from his Besa TV job purely because his questions were not in the best commercial interest of the television station he was working for.

During his interview with Krasniqi, Llapashtica asked the Government’s spokesperson to comment on Kosovar rock band Troja and their song Clown’s testament, in which the political apparatus in Kosovo is criticised as an organized team which is stealing land.

Talking to Prishtina Insight, Llapashtica said that the director was very frank and plain when explaining the reasons why he should quit.

Llapashtica said he was told: “You shouldn’t have asked him that question because you provoked him very much. We shouldn’t taunt the government people. They give us advertisements.”

However, Besa TV director Muhamer Fusha argues that Llapashtica was dismissed for his general performance. But he added that “being critical, and a local TV station, is not in the best interest of local TV station”. He said it was the national media to tackle the bigger issues.

While compiling a report in Skenderaj Municipality, which is led by the PDK, Kosovo Democratic Party, a BIRN team was attacked and impeded from filming. Journalist for Jeta në Kosovë Jeta Abazi was trying to report on failures by the mayor.

“Instead of leaving Skenderaj with certain emotions, knowing that the region is famous for resistance toward the Serbian regime, we returned with other emotions and with police escort,” Abazi told viewers after the incident.

According to Glauk Konjufca, from the Vetevendosje! Movement, there is no freedom of expression in Kosovo.

“There is an entire mechanism of small scale blackmails, threats, phone calls and pressure threatening the freedom of speech either on behalf of the government or the institutions”.

An OSCE report, covering summer 2007 to 2008, claimed that: “Politicians and political parties continue to consider media as their spokespersons. Media are ordered to publish the Prime Ministers speech for free.”

And, according to the US Department of State in 2008: “Journalists in Kosovo are intimidated by the government officials, public service workers, as well as by businesses. Some media are financed by business groups and by political interests groups, which offer them financial support in exchange for positive reporting.”

Freedom House, a Washington DC based organisation which assesses freedom of expression in all countries, said of Kosovo: “Most media in Kosovo face great financial difficulties. The editorial independence remains weak and media are adhering to business interests. Public broadcaster Radio Television Kosovo is particularly at the whim of political and economic interests.”

BIRN has conducted an investigation into changing patterns of government advertising in newspapers. It emerged that some newspapers have more advertisements with the PDK-LDK coalition, elected in 2007, while others lost their advertisements with the arrival of this partnership.

Infopress newspaper, largely seen as a pro-Government newspaper, had 234.5 pages of advertisements in March 2007, while in 2009 it had doubled to 406 pages. On the other hand, Zëri newspaper, headed by deputy head of Alliance for Kosovo’s Future, AAK, Blerim Shala, had 260.5 pages of ads in April 2007, while in 2009 it had 178.5 pages.

An investigation by think-tank KIPRED, Kosovo Institute for Political Research and Economic Development, also found similar changes. KIPRED followed the situation with all daily newspapers for eleven consecutive days to see which one received more advertising following the creation of the PDK-LDK coalition.

According to their research, Infopress had 105 pages of ads, Epoka e Re 82 pages, Express 50, Koha Ditore 49, Kosova Sot 40, Zëri 37, Lajm 24 and Bota Sot 16. Although Koha Ditore is currently the most read newspaper, this coalition directed more ad money to Infopress.

The issues around freedom of press were thrust into the open when, at the end of May, Kosovo’s Parliamentary Speaker Jakup Krasniqi declared that civil society and the media in Kosovo were directed by the Government.

According to a Government spokesperson, Krasniqi’s declaration was misinterpreted by the media. “The Assembly President’s statement was drawn out of the context, creating confusion” said spokesman Memli Krasniqi.

He argues that freedom of expression is absent when there is only one voice. “In Kosovo we do not have only one voice that speaks about one issue, because we have the voice of Vetvendosje, voice of civil society, voice of opposition and the voice of media,” added Memli Krasniqi.

Ilir Deda, from KIPRED, said that there was a lack of freedom of speech in Kosovo. “We don’t have a tradition of freedom of expression, and due to the lack of this tradition, the only freedom of expression historically was to say ‘Kosovo republic’ or ‘separation from Serbia’.”

For reaction to BIRN's investigation into freedom of speech click here: RELEX Supports Kosovo Journalist

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