Some media owners are using their outlets for political ends, Kosovo’s public broadcaster has been subjected to political interference, while working conditions for journalists remain poor, a new report says.
Freedom of the media in Kosovo is increasingly being threatened by political pressures which include direct interference by politicians, according to a study entitled ‘Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety’ which was published on Monday by the Association of Journalists of Kosovo.
According to the study, Kosovo’s constitutional and legal framework includes safeguards protecting the freedom of the media and freedom of expression, but their implementation in practice is weak.
Some media owners “dictate their editorial policy through editors to journalists, who are asked to write news in favour of a particular political party”, the report said.
Thirty per cent of the journalists interviewed for the report said that censorship has some impact on their work.
The report also said that Kosovo’s public broadcaster, RTK, has continued to suffer from political interference this year.
“The journalists who were interviewed emphasised that political interference in the editorial independence of the public broadcaster has continued,” said the report.
Shkumbin Ahmetxhekaj, an editor at RTK, told BIRN that politicians see the broadcaster as a prize asset for influencing public opinion.
“The pressure on journalists is so great because they [politicians] all see [media] as a force that could affect citizens,” Ahmetxhekaj said.
“The pressure is continuous, it is not going to stop any day, but it’s important for journalists and editors to deal with it in the right way,” he added.
Agron Bajrami, the editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Koha Ditore, told BIRN that pressures on the media are economic as well as political.
“We have seen some increase in pressure and threats on journalists this year, but we also have a worsened economic situation for media in general and a great politicisation within media themselves,” Bajrami said.
This mostly happens through direct interventions by politicians who are co-owners of some media organisations, he explained.
“The big problem in Kosovo is that the ownership of a large part of the media is unclear, it is not very transparent, which only adds to suspicions about political interference,” he added.
This affects not only the freedom of media but democracy itself, he argued, “because without free and independent media there cannot be a meaningful democracy”.
Ahmetxhekaj also said that a key problem is that the media market is being swamped by news websites which do not meet even the basic norms of professional journalism.
“It is important that there are media that still keep professional journalism alive,” he said.
The report also said that poor working conditions, low wages and general insecurity at work remain journalists’ biggest problems in Kosovo.
“These days, journalists in Kosovo work in miserable conditions,” an editor at daily Kosovo newspaper Zeri, Anita Kadriu, told BIRN.
“We are in a position when journalists cannot speak about their basic rights, so how can they speak out about the violation of the rights of Kosovo’s inhabitants?” Kadriu asked.
Bajrami also noted that “there are only few media that provide work contracts for their employees and have economic and legal stability”.
According to Ahmetxhekaj, this problem of poor working conditions “directly affects journalists’ professionalism”.
The report also said that 2017 was also marked by several cases of verbal threats, death threats, and physical attacks on journalists.
The latest incident involved BIRN reporter Taulant Osmani, who was threatened with physical attack and verbally abused on November 11 at a protest against the relocation of a monument dedicated to those who died in World War II.
Vehbi Kajtazi, editor-in-chief of the Pristina-based online newspaper Insajderi, was attacked in a bar in the centre of the city on October 13.
On August 16, investigative journalist Parim Olluri, was assaulted in Pristina. He said he suspected the attack was linked to his probing articles in the media.
However the authorities have reacted more appropriately to such incidents this year, the report said.
“Justice and security institutions were more active in protecting journalists this year after the recommendations made last year by the [Association of Journalists of Kosovo’s] Report on Journalists’ Safety,” the report said.
But it cautioned that the prosecution of certain cases in which suspects and perpetrators have been identified has not progressed effectively or quickly enough in the courts.