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SU-PRO-MEDIA | 13.08.2018 18:40 > 13.08 18:43

Walking the Minefield of Ethics


According to a poll taken by the Association of Journalists of Kosovo among their members last year, responding to a question which factors influence their work 84 percent of respondents said the influence comes fully, in great measure or partly from their editors, 44 percent pointed to their managers, and 42 percent to media owners. Some 14 percent of respondents said that politicians and government officials do influence, to an extent, what they write. They also mentioned censorship on the part of their superiors and self-censorship as a consequence of political and economic interests when explaining the conditions under which they work.

If the unstable financial situation facing the media, which mostly survive on advertizing, and the fact that numerous media portals, whose owners remain unknown, were launched in the past several years, are also taken into account, than the question of how professional the media and their employees truly are is only logically raised.

Lavdim Hamidi, editor in chief of the daily newspaper Zeri, believes that the portals, which as a rule employ very few journalists, are those disseminating the news based solely on the positions of politicians expressed via social networks.

“If a politician accuses his rival and you publish it as news without allowing the other side to also be heard, then you break the standards and rules of journalism,” Hamidi says.

Serbeze Hahxiaj, editor of the RTV Kosovo with a background in investigative journalism, says that younger journalists dominate in all Kosovo media, meaning that they have insufficient experience and that frequently “they walk the minefield of ethics.”

“Working in not so safe conditions and in unprofessional media that violate the ethical and other standards, and wanting to keep their jobs, such journalists are easily manipulated, becoming, to say so, an extended arm of the owners and serving specific agendas. This is characteristic of all media in the Balkans – the journalists are paid poorly, have little experience and are easily manipulated,” Hahxiaj says.

Only last year inspectors discovered in a number of media a total of 34 journalists working without any contract whatsoever. In many outlets the salaries are late and working overtime is a rule. This affects the quality of the texts published in the print media, released via the internet portals and aired by broadcasters,” says Hamidi.

Still, Hamidi believes that regardless of dissatisfaction, along with various pressures and censorship, freedom of expression does exist in Kosovo. His colleague Hahxiaj, however, holds that this is not completely so. She adds that many people work as journalists only temporarily, viewing their profession as a way to land a government job or a business position that would bring them greater privileges.

“This trend is quite widespread in Kosovo. As I said earlier, the media hire people to serve certain structures, and this is more or less their main feature. The authorities meddle in the media sector as in everything else. Owing to their pressure, threats and censorship the will and readiness of journalists to pursue their professional goals is being diminished. At the end of the day, the question is being raised whether it is worth fighting, making sacrifices and facing threats if you are poorly paid, are not protected, and may well lose your job come the next day? So a journalist has to answer many serious questions before he or she becomes ready to risk doing their job for the benefit of the community by revealing instances of irresponsible actions, abuses and similar,” says Hahxiaj.

In its World Press Freedom Index published this year by the Reporters without Borders organization, Kosovo takes 78th place, and is four places up compared to the previous year.

The report also says that Kosovo’s media suffer from direct and indirect political interference, financial pressure, and excessively concentrated ownership.

Lavdim Hamidi points out that political circles that are in control of advertizing and businesses tied to political circles decide which media will be supported.

“As a rule, they do not support the outlets critical of the authorities and which do their work independently. In addition, there are also ads that are published by budget-financed institutions – ministries, municipal heads and similar. Here, too, political influence plays a major role,” says Hamidi.

Despite all difficulties facing the media and journalists, Hamidi believes that the Kosovo Press Council has greatly contributed to increasing the respect for professional ethics on the part of news media.

Nehat Islami, director of the Kosovo Press Council, says that only in 2015 this body passed 100 decisions condemning hate speech and offensive language.

“It is well known that with a growing number of portals the number of comments by visitors also grew. In them hate speech abounded because the portals were out of control and were mostly founded to fight political opponents and rivals from various interest groups… Our members, most of whom work for those portals, decided to cancel the comments options not to prevent or violate freedom of expression, but because they could not process the enormous number of violations,” Islami says.

He points out that in the past three years they had no hate speech-related complaints, especially not those pertaining to minority communities. During 12 years of operation, the Council processed some 700 complaints by news media and journalists. In 2017, of the 67 complaints received, decisions were made in 33 cases and opinions regarding 34 complaints involving the media that are not Council members have been prepared.

Islami recalls that the Council’s sanctions are actually only moral in nature, and that in Europe only the Press Council of Sweden can impose monetary sanctions.

“We are the first instance deliberating the violations of ethical norms, and those who are not satisfied with our decisions may proceed and file lawsuits. The courts are thus the second instance. Experience tells us, however, that most people are interested in resolving the injustice done to them by the media via the Council, because we make our decisions within a month, whereas court proceedings may last up to five years,” Islami claims.

According to Serbeze Hahxiaj, inefficiency of the Kosovo judiciary and the fact that the symbolic penalties issued by courts for threats to journalists are sending but a single message: “Watch out, as you will be the one who is punished.”

“This only fuels fears and increases pressure and self-censorship, as journalists realize that there is no mechanism to protect them. Except for the laws, there is no other protective mechanism for news media in Kosovo, but if there is no rule of law, it is very unrealistic to expect the journalists to be and feel safe,” Hahxiaj adds.

Except for the RTV Kosovo public service, financed by the Kosovo Parliament, and some news media that were closed as soon as their owners achieved their political and business goals, there have been no significant investments in the media industry in Kosovo. As opposed to the region, in Kosovo there are no foreign investments, which would have contributed not only to their higher and steadier income from advertizing, but also to their independence from politics and various interest groups. And, what is even more important, this would allow them to report freely and without calculations.


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