Are the Kosovo media repeating the mistakes of 2004?

KFOR na mostu
PHOTO: NATO/KFOR

By: Andjela Milivojević

Kosovo media outlets are repeating the mistakes of 2004.

Two decades after the violent riots that engulfed Kosovo in March 2004, an analysis of the reporting methods employed by the Kosovo media shows an attempt to relativize the targeting of Serbs and cover up the facts about the extent of the violence.

While reading the news published by the Kosovo media on March 17, 2024, on the riots that took place twenty years ago, a small number of people would be able to grasp what happened. There is no information on how the violence started, there is no information about who burned the churches and houses, there is no information about whose churches and houses were burned, and who was the target.

A 2004 OSCE report harshly criticized the Kosovo media, particularly RTK, for their sensationalist and biased coverage of the March 2004 riots. The problem they emphasized was the media’s tendency to downplay or ignore cases in which Serbs were victims of violence and when their property was damaged.

An analysis of Kosovo media articles on the occasion of the 20th anniversary shows that the majority of media outlets repeated the mistake of 2004 and that the media, intentionally or not, did not portray the extent of the suffering and losses that the Serbian community suffered during the unrest, nor did they provide relevant context.

Of the seven analyzed media articles of influential Kosovo media, not a single one mentioned the fact that the violence against Serbs started after fake news was shared by the national service broadcaster RTK.

Several media outlets only mentioned in passing that „several Serbian houses and churches were burned“ without specifying who carried out the burning. Not a single article provided information on Serbian casualties, the number of homes destroyed, or the damage to Orthodox churches and other Serbian cultural sites during the two days of unrest.

In some texts, information about the violence, murders, and cultural destruction faced by the Serbs was completely omitted, as if it did not happen.

The lack of context on Serbian suffering is quite obvious when compared to the fact that the majority of articles reported in detail about the deaths of three ethnic Albanian children who catalyzed the riots, as well as the deaths and injuries sustained by Albanians during the riots.

This kind of reporting resembles an attempt by the media to reinforce a narrative that only favors the perspective and suffering of one community. In addition, the „other side“ is dehumanized, which contradicts the basic journalistic principles of impartial and balanced reporting on all facts.

Such one-sided reporting that minimizes or omits details about violence against a minority community can serve to relativize those crimes in public and create a new generation of young people who do not have a clear picture of what happened in 2004 or have a completely distorted view of that event.

What did the media remain silent about?

RTK: The article indirectly mentions that during the riots „Orthodox religious buildings and houses“ were set on fire without any explanation as to who did it, and it appears as if they spontaneously caught fire.

RTK omitted the fact that the news about the murder of the boys was fake, as well as that the OSCE mission issued a report saying that the Albanian media had misrepresented or exaggerated the statements of one of the surviving children and ignored calls for caution from UNMIK and the UN police.

RTK shared no information on the number of Serbs killed, their damaged property, and churches.

RTK initially once again shared its fake news. Following criticism from journalists’ associations and over 50 journalists from the Serbian part of the newsroom, RTK rectified the news piece, which still does not contain information based on which an individual who knows nothing about March 2004 could clearly and unequivocally conclude who started the riots and who was the target of the attacks.

ZERI: The article does not provide any specific details or context about the violence against Serbs during the riots. Similar to the news published by RTK, it is mentioned in passing that some houses and religious buildings were set on fire, without it being specified as to whom these houses belonged, it was not specified that the religious buildings were churches, or who set them on fire.

KALLXO: No mention of violence against Serbs, of the fact that the Kosovo media published fake news, of the fact that some Albanians throughout Kosovo attacked and targeted Serb citizens.

KOHA: The article reiterates the fake news that the violence occurred „after three Albanian children drowned in the Ibar River while trying to escape an attack by a group of Serbian youths“ – there is no clarification that it was fake news. No context was given about Serb casualties or damage to Serbian property and cultural sites. No context was provided that part of the Albanian community caused riots and burned property.

KLANKOSOVA: There is no information about the fake news, nor the context that the Albanian protestors targeted the Serbs. The title suggests the opposite, that the protests have nothing to do with Serbs, but that they were held against UNMIK. The text says that 19 people were killed, 12 of them Albanians, without information that Serbs were also killed and that their property was burned, as well as Serbian churches.

GazetaExpress: No concrete context was provided regarding Serbian victims or material damage to their property and churches. No explanation was given that it was fake news, which was repeated by quoting Prime Minister Kurti.

ATVLIVE: This is one of few articles that says at the end: „During these riots, several Serbian houses and churches were burned.“ The article continues: „Something similar happened to Albanian houses in Serb-majority areas.“ There is no information about RTK’s fake news, nor was any context given about who stood behind the burning of churches and houses of Serbs, nor about the scale of violence against the minority community. The violence in Kosovo is put in the same context as the riots that happened in Serbia.

Based on the analyzed media articles, the main narrative that seems to be pushed in most media about the 20th anniversary of the March 2004 riots focuses primarily on the Albanian perspective and Albanian victims.

There are a few key aspects of the narrative in the Kosovo media:

Portraying the riots as a justified „people’s rebellion“ against UNMIK

Several articles, including the ones published by KOHA, KLAN KOSOVA, and ATVLIVE, characterize the March riots as a „people’s rebellion“ or „uprising“ directed against the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and its policies. This narrative portrays the violence as an understandable expression of public anger, and not as a breach of law and order and the targeting of a minority community.

Emphasis on Albanian victims

The majority of the articles included detailed accounts of the three Albanian children who drowned in the Ibar River, which led to the riots. The names and ages of the children are emphasized. Some news pieces also focus on casualties and injuries among Albanians during clashes with security forces. However, practically no article provided similar details about Serbian casualties or damage to Serbian property and religious buildings.

Downplaying violence against Serbs

None of the articles provide adequate context or statistics on the scale of violence, killing, and destruction the Serb community faced during the unrest. In several articles that mentioned that churches and property were burned, there is no explanation that it was done by protesting Albanians.

Withholding information about fake news

None of the articles provide information that RTK published fake news in 2004, and that the OSCE mission confirmed in its report that it was fake news.

Shifting the blame to the Serbs

Although not openly accusing, some articles support the perception that the riots were caused by reports of Serbian violence against Albanian children, implying that the Serbs were the initial provocateurs, and thus that the violence was justified.

The dominant narrative launched by most of these articles focuses on Albanian victims, downplays or ignores Serbian suffering, criticizes UNMIK, and presents the riots as an understandable response against injustice – essentially justifying or relativizing the violence of a part of the Albanian population against Serbs in Kosovo.

Twenty years later, these articles confirm the OSCE’s criticism of the biased, one-sided coverage of the Kosovo media that fueled tensions during March 2004.



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