As the International Court of Justice (ICJ) prepared to give an advisory opinion on the legality of the Kosovo’s declaration of independence, Reporters Without Borders released a report on the state of press freedom in this fledgling country. The organisation met Pristina’s journalists and first bloggers trying to work in an ethical framework while providing access to open news and information, untrammelled by the political and criminal influence plaguing the country until now.
All this has not been without risk. Added to financial problems and the precarious nature of their professional standing, journalists have come in for threats from nationalist militants and extremists of every stripe. Professional or financial punishments are rapidly applied to those who expose the numerous scandals in which all areas of activity in Kosovo are mired. Although violence against journalists is rare, financial reprisals against their families are commonplace and frequently turn out to be effective in driving them to self-censorship.
On one side, the political class often disparages journalists for their “lack of professionalism’’ and their alleged treachery when they criticise the management of public bodies. On the other hand, every sphere of government, official and unofficial, does its utmost to control and to extend its influence on most editorial positions. Even though, in the written press, two standout newspapers, Koha Ditore and Zieri, continue to resist the pressure, this is not true of the broadcast media where much more is at stake. In a limited and manipulated advertising market under government control, public radio and television RTK reigns supreme on television screens. Independent channels do their best to hold out but constrained by the hobbled workings of the market, they rarely attempt to hold the line against self-censorship that cripples them and the public media. Online channels are beginning to provide a new space for independence and freedom, but the lack of a viable financial model has hampered the influence they could have.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi has constantly repeated that he wants to see Kosovo joining the European Union. But to achieve this he will need to give a more serious pledge of respect for press freedom. Simple and concrete steps could be taken very quickly without the need for major reform. The international community, still very much present in this new state, still has the capacity for influence that it should use with greater effectiveness. Even though the EU fully gauges the importance of press freedom in Kosovo’s wish to joint its 27 member states, it is often not sufficiently clear about this within the country. Widened and better managed, the resources available are still not enough to change this trend. But if nothing is done, the increasing criminal methods in the media sector will only grow and could overwhelm even the most resistant journalists.