Reporters Without Borders deplores US ambassador Christopher Dell’s open letter (see below) to Kosovo’s Independent Media Commission on 23 February criticising Express, Koha Ditore and Koha Vision TV for using blown-up photos of text messages on a smartphone screen to show that he provided the country’s new president with last-minute advice in parliament before a vote that only just secured him the presidency.
Open Letter of Christopher Dell to the Independent Media Commission
I was disappointed to learn today that private correspondence and conversations were intercepted and recorded by media outlets and subsequently printed or broadcast nationwide. These outlets, including Koha Ditore, Express and KTV crossed the line in transmitting private communications that took place at the Assembly Hall on February 22, including an apparent phone call involving me. I am writing to members of the IMC regarding this unprofessional, unethical, and potentially illegal activity. I am not disturbed by the content of these communications, which reflect nothing more than routine efforts to gather information in a confused environment and purported comments relayed by third parties, including a perfectly respectable assertion that the political leaders of the country needed to make some decisions for themselves, but rather by the media’s apparently illegal act.
Just as I have called on members of the government to embrace the highest standards of transparent and clean governance, I urge members of the media to hold themselves to these same standards and to the professional conduct that they agreed to when signing the Press Code of Conduct.
Kosovo has codes of conduct for both print and broadcast media. These codes hold signatories responsible to the highest international journalistic standards, including privacy. Koha Ditore, Express, and KTV violated the spirit and intent of these codes when they intruded on personal communications. Their behavior was inexcusable. The behavior may also have been illegal, as Kosovo’s Criminal Code forbids the unauthorized interception of personal conversations and statements.
• Article 170 (1) Whoever, with the use of special equipment and without authorization, wiretaps or records a conversation or a statement not addressed to him or her or enables another person to have knowledge of a conversation or statement which was wiretapped or recorded without authorization shall be punished by a fine or by imprisonment of up to one year.
I trust that the IMC will exercise its responsibility in enforcing its Code of Conduct, and I leave it to legal authorities to assess whether or not the law was violated and what legal steps should follow. However, I believe it is beyond dispute that the journalists involved and the editors/publishers who authorized the reports, clearly violated the ethical and professional standards expected of journalists in a democratic state.
The public – the readers and listeners of your news – deserve an apology. Members of the media have violated their own standards and the public trust. Three years after independence, your country should be able to rely upon a responsible, ethical, and professional media. I am disheartened that in spite of strong support and considerable investment of my government over more than ten years, some of your more popular outlets have yet to reach even a minimal level of professional accountability and responsibility commensurate with the positions of public responsibility they exercise.”