Kosovo: Better institutional support for better journalism

Shkëlqim Hysenaj

Shkëlqim Hysenaj, Head of the Association of Journalists of Kosova, reflected on the main obstacles to quality journalism, in an interview for SEE Media Observatory.

Shkëlqim Hysenaj, Head of the Association of Journalists of Kosova commented on the journalists’ working conditions. He said that one of the main challenges for exercising journalistic profession in Kosovo is the lack of financial stability. He claims that media outlets do not respect the labor rights, even though they are obliged to do that by the Labour Law, and that the institution are doing little to change this: “our concern grows knowing the lack of support we have from other institutions to bring about change to the current situation,” Hysenaj noted.

Hysenaj is concerned with the fact that many journalists still work without labour contracts, although he believes the situation has slightly changed in the recent few years. Still, as he points out, out of 500 current members of the Association, 30% of them said that they do not have signed contracts. “We have requested the Labor inspector to inspect all media outlets in Kosova, but unfortunately this process did not give the result we wanted,” he added. Even when the contract exist, he indicated, their provisions are not consistently implemented, and for example “each year we have a high number of journalists that lose their job without any explanation. Overtime is never paid as stated in the Labor law”.

Our collocutor also commented on the journalists’ daily work and emphasized that they are in a difficult position since they are “continuously up against many groups of interests, high profile politicians and very dangerous individuals who can threat, intimidate and use violence against them”. With regard to the cases of threats and violence against journalists, Hysenaj said there have been 18 cases in 2016. According to him, police is quite reluctant to provide protection and assistance for journalists, and prosecutors and courts are not doing much either.

In addition, Hysenaj says that the Association and other media NGOs are the “only voices who are fighting for media freedom and expression.” They are continuously trying to bring journalists together to discuss problems they are facing. They are reacting and protesting when journalists’ rights are being violated. They are also involved in different programs and projects to protect and promote journalists’ rights.

Hysenaj pointed out that there are professional journalists in Kosovo, but that professionalism and independence of journalists in general needs to be enhanced. Media owners should for example “invest in increasing level of professionalism of their employees and this can begin by financing trainings for journalists – as a key to the transparency and a better-functioning society.” He also emphasized the problem of censorship and self-censorship. Media owners and editors interfere in the daily work of journalists so that “pressure is a part of journalists’ daily work in Kosovo, as in most Eastern European countries.” In addition, he claims, journalists tend to censor themselves, so their reporting does not clash with particular interests of their owners. “It is an unspoken rule that you must not write a story about your owner’s donor”, Hysenaj noted.

Commenting on the latest Progress Report, Hysenaj agreed with the findings and expressed concern that most of the last year’s recommendations have not been addressed. He stated that the state Assembly showed no commitment to solve the financing of the public broadcasting system, leaving it vulnerable to political pressures. Moreover, there have been no legislative developments to regulate media ownership and transparency. According to him, “Kosovo should focus in particular on the following areas: continue to ensure that cases of physical attacks against journalists and other forms of pressure are promptly investigated and adjudicated; ensure a sustainable financial solution for the public broadcaster; and implement measures to provide for transparent information on media ownership.”

The article was originally published by South East European Media Observatory

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* - References to Kosovo are without prejudice to positions on status. They are in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the opinion by the International Court of Justice on the Kosovo declaration of independence.