Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) is a non-governmental organization which is connected with a variety of global partners and is financed by distinct international donors.The Network focuses on monitoring, investigative reporting and news analyzing. The well-known news portal Balkan Insights belongs to BIRN as well as the print and digital magazine in Kosovo, Prishtina Insight.
Eraldin Fazliu works as the editor of Prishtina Insight as well as a journalist for BIRN Kosovo. Until 2014 he lived in the Czech Republic to complete his studies in European Politics. He got his start in journalism at Kosovo 2.0. and moved forward to Prishtina Insight in 2018.
What does the media landscape in Kosovo look like and what role does it play?
The role of media is tendentially losing its meaningfulness in our society. This is most visible in the overall developments of Kosovo’s media landscape, its financial viability and ownership structures. Last year, a BIRN report revealed that ubiquitous amounts of ministerial money have flown into online media portals, many of which are social media platforms without disclosure of their ownership structures. This case shows that, although politicians formally adhere to legal standards of subsidizing media outlets, they directly invest in a selected array of media to ensure political advertising. Our media landscape is under considerable stress due to the lack of appropriate funding and undue political influence through selective funding strategies as well as direct investments by the private sector, who seek to advance certain vested interests.
At the same time, the evolvement of social media outlets has given rise to a more pluralized media landscape, yet a large share of newly established social media platforms do not adhere to any transparency codes, nor do they publish critical or analytical news content. The consequences of this is an overflow of information that renders the viewership confused about the quality and accuracy of its content.
Another challenge to the news landscape is that despite BIRN’s persistent work in revealing scandals of abuse of public power and corruption cases, they are most likely not to be followed up by public authorities. There is this saying in Kosovo that a scandal after three days is not a scandal anymore.
In what language are newspapers published in Kosovo?
Printed news is published solely in Albanian. In the domain of online media, different outlets such as KoSSev which is located in Mitrovica, Kosovo 2.0 and Prishtina Insight, both of which are located in Prishtina, have begun publishing in Serbian, Albanian and English. Articles by Prishtina Insight are also published in Serbian as well as international media outlets. The evolvement of multi-lingual news outlets contributes to the overcoming of the language barrier between Albanian and Serbian speaking demographics living in Kosovo. In addition to providing access to multilingual readership, this trend also counteracts the persistent challenge of misinterpretation from one language into another. Overall, however, the scale of multilingual news coverage is not satisfactory because the current ratio of Albanian and Serbian coverage provided to all of Kosovo does not align with the law on language, which states that both are the official languages of the country. This account ties in with the wider societal issue of a linguistically segregated education system that fails to equip younger generations with necessary language skills.
What are the working conditions of journalists in Kosovo?
In Kosovo, politicians and their oligarchs from the private sector prefer the use of informal bribes, instead of physical intimidation of journalists. Attacks on journalists are largely verbal, yet there were physical attacks which remain unsolved due to a lack of evidence. Personally, the biggest issue in this sector is the ‘buying’ of journalists. Those captured by this kind of encroachment of the freedom of media often become less critical and transform their critiques into ridiculing accounts of what politicians wear or say, instead of focusing on core issues. If the international community hasn’t been as present in Kosovo as it is, these forms of intimidation and abuse of powers would be blunter and more direct. Another challenge to the working conditions of journalists is the fact that more than 50 per cent work without contract. This means that they work without insurance or legal protection while making an average salary of 300 Euros, and to be perfectly honest, this equates to the earning of a waiter in Kosovo.
The lack of contracted work also makes journalists more vulnerable to bribing and intimidation, while generally having to pursue their work with the worry that it puts their family at risk. This is an especially serious issue in Kosovo, where one third of the people in the labor market are employed in the public sector. If you are a journalist and your sister works for the government, you will feel the pressure that your work might get her fired from her job.
How does international media reflect the political situation in Kosovo?
There are many scholars focusing on Kosovo and particularly so since the war in 1999. Only a few, however, provide a qualified analysis on the intricate challenges faced by Kosovo’s peacebuilding, state-building and democratization processes. Writing on a topic you research about, but do not have any personal experience of, or have gained more field experience of, can easily turn into a perpetuation of ideologically underpinned explanations that give little insight into the empirical realities of life. This lack of research ethics becomes recurrently evident in times of crisis, when scholars draw their attention to Kosovo to imbue its political decision makers with academic advice on how to proceed. Illustrative of this behavior is the academic reaction to the border correction, or land swap negotiations between Thaci and Vučić since 2018. Voices from the academic rows have professed an array of solutions of which some cannot be further away from grasping the real consequences of such a deal. What you get to read are analyses contributing to epistemological untruths such as the one by a Georgetown University professor who recklessly called for a pragmatic solution to the issue that supports a “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
What significance did foreign media have after 2008 and what has changed since then?
Foreign media reporting on Kosovo has always been ambivalent and continues to be contested. Coverage generally tends to capitalize on crises within the political landscape related to international matters such as the recognition of statehood, the post-conflict reconstruction and EU enlargement. Since the signing of the Brussels agreement with Belgrade in 2013, international media mostly covers developments and crises within the context of the normalization with Belgrade and inter-ethnic issues related to the Serb community in Kosovo. You hardly see any good news reports. Most recently, this was affirmed by the New York Times reporting on religious radicalism in Kosovo. A positive consequence of the absence of the international media after 2008 is that they have less potential to aggravate to local socio-political affairs. If they had been more present with their selective approach to news worthiness there would have most likely been more problems and tensions on ground. Therefore, it is integral to provide not only a balanced coverage of diverse issues about Kosovo, but also to refrain from reducing it to the failed state mantra at the end of the EU enlargement train.
How does Kosovo’s quality of press freedom relate to other Western Balkan countries?
Kosovo fares much better than the surrounding countries. It ranks better than Albania since its media landscape is completely divided. There, journalists are openly endorsing party agendas or politicians. As mentioned before, we perform better than North Macedonia and definitely better than Serbia, where journalists face regular and direct intimidation. Lastly, we also do better than Montenegro, which experiences higher levels of media capture than we do. Yet, the current situation always has the potential to worsen in the few years ahead of us. Currently we are not doing worse in comparison with the entire region, but media freedom remains very much infringed upon from a global perspective. This stems from the fact that there is no clear ownership transparency, or accountability and dubious financing strategies as well as political and private sector influence on the media landscape.
What is to be expected from the media in the upcoming parliamentary elections?
A likely scenario is that the media will simply transmit whatever is being said by political actors on their personal social media profiles. It is clearly an issue when statements are being simply mediated from a social media platform into news articles that lack any critical analysis or different perspectives on what is being stated. Instead, what we will see is that these publications will be spiced up with catchy titles. At Prishtina Insight, I will focus on political agendas and how these relate to issues that matter to the public such as education, health care systems and social infrastructure.
Please notice that we needed to shorten and paraphrase the interview for the sake of clarity and brevity.