The concept of freedom of the press is a natural extension of human notions of justice, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite this, authoritarian regimes throughout history have sought to control the flow of information, with knowledge concentrated in the hands of the few. However, the overthrow of monarchical authoritarianism in England in 1688 gave rise to the idea that freedom cannot exist in a political system without a free media.
The Battle for Press Freedom in Kosovo: Corruption, Interference, and Intimidation Plague Media Environment
The media environment in Kosovo remains a battleground of political interference, corruption, and financial pressure.
Kosovo, a country born out of conflict and struggle, has been plagued by a litany of challenges in its journey towards democracy and the betterment of its society. One of the most critical issues that continue to undermine its progress is the relentless attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression.
Journalists who dare to criticize the authorities are often labelled as traitors, spies, or worse. Over the past several years, many have gone missing or have died under suspicious circumstances that have been described as suicides. Reporters Without Borders has cited the Kosovan media as being subjected to intimidation through weaponized financial and tax inspections.
The consequences of these attacks on the freedom of the press have been devastating for the country. Despite having legal protection for freedom of expression and the press enshrined in its constitution, political interference, corruption, and financial pressure continue to plague the media environment in Kosovo. The lack of professional standards and integrity within the media, combined with a lack of support from the national infrastructure, has created a dire reality of undemocratic governance, in which lies and devastating corruption rule the day. The quality of reporting suffers, professional ethics are violated, and citizens are denied their right to contest libel and defamation. Meanwhile, foreign powers give awards to compliant editors while simultaneously attacking press freedoms.
The impact of these attacks goes beyond the media industry. They are a direct threat to Kosovo’s democracy and the betterment of its society. Without free and independent media, corruption and abuse of power can go unchecked, and the people’s voices cannot be heard. The lack of transparency and accountability makes it difficult to tackle the many challenges the country faces, from organized crime to poverty and unemployment.
Furthermore, the attacks on press freedom have a chilling effect on the entire society. Journalists who are not censored or intimidated may resort to self-censorship, not daring to investigate or report on sensitive issues. This lack of critical reporting and transparency can further undermine the development of democracy and the rule of law in the country.
In Kosovo, criticizing the authorities can be a dangerous game. Journalists who dare to speak out against the powers that be are often labelled as “traitors,” “Serb sympathizers,” or even “spies.” In recent years, several journalists have disappeared or died under circumstances that have been described as suicides, while Reporters Without Borders has cited the Kosovan media as being subjected to intimidation through weaponized financial and tax inspections.
Despite the fact that the Constitution (Articles 40-42) provides legal protection for freedom of expression and the press, political interference, corruption, and financial pressure continue to plague the media environment in Kosovo.
The tradition of murdering journalists in Kosovo is said to have begun with the current President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, according to international reports. The growing moratorium includes Albanian journalists as well as foreigners and dozens of party activists, all targeted and killed in the aftermath of the war. Journalists such as Enver Maloku, Shefki Popova, Bekim Kastrati, and Brdhyl Ajeti have been killed, along with the German journalists Volker Kraemer and Gabriel Gruener, a Serbian journalist who was reportedly shot to death, and a national broadcast journalist, Marjan Melanosi, who was abducted. The attempt on the life of Fatmire Terdeci, who was shot in the shoulder while pregnant, is also a testament to the state of press freedom in Kosovo. Terdeci is known for her fearless reports about corruption and organized crime.
Other journalists have met similar fates. Hamdi Sopa, who worked as a press officer for the government and was known as “Thaçi II,” reportedly jumped from the eighth floor of a building in Pristina, and his death was recorded by police as a suicide, in which case he stabbed himself before jumping. Radio journalist Emin Rexhepi died in suspicious circumstances last year. Though the Association of Journalists urged the authorities to investigate the matter, they were silent when my visa application was rejected by the US on grounds of suspected terrorism.
All of these depressing facts demonstrate the thorough evisceration of any pretence to freedom of the press in Kosovo. To make matters worse, organized crime has forged new traditions of repression in an already deeply troubled country, and human rights and media freedoms are among the first casualties.
The 2014 OSCE report states that “The main challenges to media freedom that have persisted in Kosovo through the last five years are related primarily to the rule of law.” Key legislation has been adopted or amended, but implementation remains a problem. Journalists have been threatened, intimidated, pressured, and physically attacked, and the judiciary has been slow in handling such cases.
Despite critical progress reports (2009/2015) from the European Commission for Kosovo, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are in practice not guaranteed, and the institutional framework fails in their defence. The Association of Journalists is weak and compromised, and Kosovo has sunk lower in the Reporters Without Borders press freedoms index. Freedom of expression in Kosovo is crushed by the weight of violence that finds its root in a reign of crime that springs from the fugitive warlords who presume to rule over the country.
Kosovo’s people, beautiful and resilient people, deserve better. The attacks on the freedom of the press in Kosovo have prevented the country from reaching its full potential and improving the quality of life of its citizens. It is time for the authorities to recognize the importance of free and independent media and take action to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Without press freedom, Kosovo cannot develop into the democratic and prosperous society its people deserve.