„Today, the majority of the free Kosovo Serb media are on the brink of extinction. However, all the freedom of the world is for nothing if they don’t have the basic means for work and survival,“ journalist Budimir Nicic described the current state of the independent media reporting in Serbian.
Today is World Press Freedom Day. On that occasion, Radio Kontakt Plus and KoSSev talked about the role and position of the media with several Serbian editors and journalists from Kosovo.
Unreliable funding, i.e. economic dependence, unavailability of officials for newsrooms not under their control, non-compliance with the Law on the Use of Languages, the Constitution – when it comes to Kosovo’s public service newsroom in Serbian, lack of epilogue of the investigations into 17 missing and killed journalists in Kosovo, lack of security, as well as censorship of journalists and the media themselves – these are the key issues highlighted by Kosovo Serb journalists and editors.
The way to overcome these issues, they say, lies in enthusiasm, and in changing the attitude of institutions towards journalists, as well as continuous professional work. „Raise your voice, ask questions and remind those who are responsible and obliged to answer questions in your reports, articles, texts.“
Old and new problems – an uncertain future
Following the 1999 conflict, the media outlets reporting in Serbian in Kosovo developed gradually, encountering several different problems, recalls the head of the private television „Mir“ from Leposavic, Nenad Radosavljevic.
„A large number of journalists, cameramen, and technical staff with full newsrooms, or individually, fled to Serbia proper, so the Serbian-language media, which were being established much more slowly than the Albanian ones, lacked personnel. The support of international organizations was insufficiently directed towards minority communities whose media, in addition to financial difficulties, also faced the problem of security and freedom of movement,“ said Radosavljevic, the director of one of the oldest Serbian-language media outlets founded after the war.
Radosavljevic also underscored „new“ problems that emerged in recent years, such as:
„Lack of transparency of the work of political representatives and open non-cooperation of Srpska Lista officials, both from the local and central level of government, with the media.“
Independent media manage to deal with these issues thanks to their enthusiasm, he adds.
„Despite all the problems, the enthusiasm of media activists has given rise to one portal, two radios, and two televisions that are truly independent and which, although with a lot of difficulties, still do their job correctly. Unfortunately, as far as the print media is concerned, the situation is even worse and nothing has come to fruition. Funds and the number of organizations dealing with media support are declining, and the state of Kosovo Serb media has never properly flourished. The media are left to their own devices in very difficult conditions, and their future is uncertain in any case.“
Politicians have ‘their media’, independent media also ‘become somewhat dependent’
A journalist from central Kosovo, Andjelka Cup, also stressed the difficult position of small independent Serbian-language newsrooms – which operate on funded projects and face difficulties in finding interlocutors, especially those in power.
According to Cup, editor of one of the newest portals „gracanicaonline“ and „Euronews Srbija“ correspondent, the Serb-language media in Kosovo have been operating without steady sources of funding for years – the exception being those founded by the Serbian or Kosovo government.
„They depend on projects, which often leads to independent media becoming somewhat dependent because donors often have their own requests that are not always in line with professional reporting. Journalists who report in Serbian also have a hard time finding interlocutors, especially politicians and officials of local and central institutions, and they have even a harder time when they are researching pressing issues.“
Cup also emphasized that some politicians have „their own media“.
Furthermore, she highlighted another problem – the frequent lack of translation, and oral and written information in Serbian, despite Serbian being one of the official languages in Kosovo.
„The issue with non-compliance with the Law on the Use of Languages, instead of diminishing, seems to me to be growing. International organizations that finance institutions in order to increase translation capacities do not seem to have any feedback on that,“ Cup said.
Cup also reveals what changed for the better – the somewhat increased security of the journalists who report in Serbian.
„Ethnically motivated incidents on the ground are rare. As for the cooperation between media outlets that report in Serbian and Albanian, I am worried that, although it seems correct, it focuses only on mutual cooperation within a project that must include minority media,“ said Andjelka Cup.
EFJ adopted two resolutions on investigations into the murders of journalists, no progress on the ground
The editor-in-chief of RTV Kim, Goran Avramovic, warns that the Kosovo Serb media, as well as their audience, are still in a precarious position. As an example, he cited the current position of RTK2, which operates within the Kosovo public service.
„The fact remains that the RTK2 channel is not what the Constitution says it should be. It does not belong to the Serb community as it should. That editorial office does not have its own website, which is unheard of,“ Avramovic argued.
He also said that some representatives of the majority community made several proposals this year to shut down certain Kosovo Serb media outlets and portals.
Avramovic warned of the discrimination of the media by decision-makers, but also the unprofessional behavior of certain media and journalists.
„The journalists are discriminated by decision-makers from Pristina, Belgrade and the international community, who invite ‘suitable journalists’. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues often forget about professional rules, and they simply serve to convey to the citizens a ‘wish list’ of those who are paid to answer journalists’ questions,“ says Avramovic.
Recalling that the European Federation of Journalists adopted two resolutions on investigations into the murders and abductions of journalists in Kosovo from 1998 to 2005, the editor-in-chief of RTV Kim stressed that no concrete progress has been made in that regard.
„The establishment of an international expert commission was requested, which would deal with this matter. Unfortunately, it is nowhere in sight.”
According to Avramovic, one of the ways the position and role of the media could improve is for the journalists to do their jobs professionally and raise their voice, asking questions and reminding in their reports, articles, texts… those who are under obligation to answer journalists’ questions.
„We have to continuously do our job by adhering to professional rules as much as possible. I think that is the strongest weapon we have in our hands to move things with the current point,“ underlines Avramovic.
Kosovo Serb newsrooms are in the worst position in the region
A journalist of Radio Kosovska Mitrovica, Ivana Vanovac, believes that the position of media in Kosovo has not changed in years. According to her, Kosovo Serb newsrooms are in the worst position in the region.
She reminded that the day before, a plaque was installed near Velika Hoca for the 9th time at the site of the 1998 abduction of journalists Djuro Slavuj and Ranko Perenic.
„A society in which there are some people who are bothered by the memorial plaque to missing journalists who did nothing but their hard work and the fact that all this is happening in an institutional system where it is obviously quite legal and legitimate, are the best indicator of the position of media workers in Kosovo,“ Vanovac points out.
She also noted that the funding of these independent media, which is mostly unreliable, time-limited, and insufficient, further exacerbates the problem.
On the other hand, Vanovic pointed out the danger faced by media workers when reporting during crisis situations.
Vanovac also spoke about the often bad attitude of official institutions – especially Pristina institutions – toward Serbian-language newsrooms in Kosovo.
„This is best seen in the fact that most press releases from the official Kosovo institutions are exclusively in Albanian, and if they are written in Serbian, they are sent a couple of hours later. And the translation is mostly bad,“ Vanovac says.
In her words, the solution lies in changing the institutional approach to the media.
„Raising awareness that the media have the right to ask, to demand answers and that all those who hold posts are obliged to respond to the media. When that primary relationship is resolved and brought to a normal level, then I guess the situation will improve.“
Vanovac emphasized that whenever journalists disappear or are attacked while on duty, the entire society, and above all the institutions, should first condemn, and then prosecute the perpetrators.
„It is not that the problem is complicated, it is just that there is no will of the institutions to solve that problem,“ concludes Vanovac.
Currently, there are approximately 30 Serbian-language media in Kosovo. A few years ago, the editor of Radio Gorazdevac, Darko Dimitrijevic, wrote an op-ed about these newsrooms – about what they do, and the problems they face.
The State Department recently stated in its latest reports on human rights, which included separate reports for Kosovo and Serbia in 2021, that journalists faced difficulties in obtaining information from officials and institutions, and that funding problems also threatened media independence. The State Department also wrote about media intimidation in both Kosovo and Serbia, although this issue was much more highlighted in the report on Serbia than in the report on Kosovo.
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