Despite the ideological differences in the various socio-political systems of the world, freedom of the press is a natural extension of almost all human notions of justice, whether that starts from the foundational standpoint of having the right to speak peacefully without fear of reprisal, or whether it takes shape in a world dominated by the extensive reach of a corporate oligarchy, the idea remains the same, and simple: we all have the right to investigate the affairs of our society, and in addition to this we have the right to report our findings back to all those who wish to listen.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19) states in unequivocal terms :
‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’
Such ideas contrast drastically with authoritarian regimes across the ages in which the people were not considered as legitimate participants in affairs of state beyond the filling of levies for whatever war was being mustered; rather a small elite of wealthy individuals variously composed of prestigious and otherwise politically astute or simply fortunately born characters and actors deigned to tell the masses as little or as much as they liked, and notions of popular sovereignty in the minds of the ruling classes were just about as scant as they are today – perhaps in truth less so.
In the past, knowledge was concentrated in the hands of the few: intelligence agencies and espionage networks devoted to the arts of political intrigue derived their reason for being from their devious and often expert practice of that famous old dictum, that knowledge is in fact power, and furthermore both are one in the same – and when these historical and contextual thoughts are introduced back into the themes of press freedoms and freedom of speech it sheds light on the desperate circumstances that so many of the peoples of the nations of the world presently face.
More recently the University of Illinois published a seminal text in Four Theories of the Press by Siebert, Peterson and Schramm (1956) which might be said to have done more than any other single book in the creation of a typology of journalistic theory in the minds of students, teachers and scholars: part of the text expounded the thesis that men cannot be conceived of as dependent beings amenable to being effectively lead by an authoritarian government; rather, this line of thinking argues that humanity must be viewed as a rational species able to discern truth from falsehood, with the power seek out alternative views in order to establish a picture of the ideas at play in any given discourse so as better to be able to compare and draw balanced conclusions.
The truth is not governmental property, but so often events are driven by the de facto truth that might makes right or suffer the consequences.
It used to be that government or the monarch had absolute power or control over the ownership and content of the tools of mass communication, such as they existed at the time; though so long as there have been media for the dissemination of dissenting opinions and views, those voices have existed also – no matter how small in relation to those of their oppressors (see Samizdat literature for example).
With that said, criticism of the political machinery of a state or wider officialdom was impossible to achieve in the past as mass media makes possible today (John Perkins has made this point resoundingly clear through his descriptions of the use of mass media as a hyper-effective defamation tool used to discredit and neutralise political opponents by ruining careers, families and lives with swift and ruthless precision) and what channels of propaganda and dissemination were available in the past were thoroughly dominated by the ruling caste and only allowed to exist in order to fulfill their primary functions of supporting and advancing the policies of those who hold the reins power.
With the overthrow of monarchical authoritarianism in England in 1688, libertarians began to refashion society with the conviction that freedom cannot exist in a political system without a free media and to this end they gave the freedom of the press a paramount position in their reinvention of the apparatus of government.
The right to search for truth is one of the inalienable natural rights of man; and to quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall as she writes in the voice of Voltaire :
‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
Journalists that criticize the authorities of Kosovo are often brandished as ‘traitors’ ‘Serb sympathizers’ or ‘spies’ whilst the past several years have witnessed reporters going missing or dying in events variously described as suicides – all this whilst Reporters Without Boarders assesses the Kosovan media as being subjected to intimidation through weaponised financial and tax inspections.
The media environment in Kosovo continues to be affected by political interference, corruption and financial pressure despite the Constitution (Articles 40-42) providing a legal framework of protection for freedom of expression and the freedom of the press.
Lack of professional standards and integrity within the media combines with a lack of support from the national infrastructure of the civic-political-judicial-military-and-police establishment to deal the Kosovan people a dire reality of undemocratic governance in which lies and devastating corruption rule the day: the quality of reporting, the violation of professional ethics, the denial of the right of citizens to contest libel and defamation; the continued interference of foreign powers by giving awards to compliant editors whilst simultaneously attacking press freedoms; such is the litany of depressing facts that demonstrate the thorough evisceration of any pretense to freedom of the press in Kosovo, furthermore organised crime has forged new traditions of repression in an already deeply troubled country, and human rights and media freedoms were first in line.
In 1997 an incident took place involving a journalist who was found dead in his Tirana apartment with multiple screwdriver stab wounds to the face as well as clear indications that he was violated with a broken bottle – Ali Uka was the name of this journalist and whilst he was supportive of the rebel movement he also had the integrity to criticise where he felt it fell short with regards to his principles: at the time of his death he was sharing an apartment with Hashim Thaçi, who is now the current President of Kosovo.
Reliable international reports suggest that the tradition of murdering journalists in Kosovo began with Thaçi himself; 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 (see one such report from accomplished Human Rights lawyer William G. O’Neill).
Kosovan Albanian journalists killed include Enver Maloku, Shefki Popova, Bekim Kastrati and Brdhyl Ajeti – add to this small list of examples the German journalists Volker Kraemer and Gabriel Gruener as well as a Serbian journalist reportedly shot to death, also remember the abducted national broadcast journalist Marjan Melanosi, and the attempt on the life Fatmire Terdeci that saw her shot in the shoulder whilst pregnant – and a picture of the state of Press Freedom in Kosovo slowly begins to emerge. Terdeci is known for her fearless reports about corruption and organised crime.
Hamdi Sopa reportedly jumped from the eighth floor of a building in Pristina, as press officer for the government he was known as ‘Thaçi II’: his death was recorded by police as a suicide (in which case he stabbed himself before jumping) – his daughters stand accused.
Radio journalist Emin Rexhepi worked for the state broadcaster Radio Kosova. He died in suspicious circumstances in October of last year, and whilst 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 (therefore investigating terrorism is itself terrorism):
‘Vedat got into real trouble while investigating an alleged Jihadist training camp in Kosovo, which was believed to be supported by a very well-known western intelligence agency and the local mafia. His findings suggest that young Kosovars are indoctrinated and sent to Syria for sombre purposes. Vedat doesn’t want that happening to the youth of his country.’ — from ‘War on… investigative journalism’ by Charly Pache
After I was subject to an assassination attempt in 2012 due to an investigation into an alleged crime syndicate in which the police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the office of the Prime Minister were all implicated, I am now locked in a legal battle with the Kosovan government – police officers were the perpetrators, and the investigation I was conducting singled out individuals above them in the chain of command (the Latin phrase res ipsa loquitur fits well).
In a 2014 OSCE report it states :
‘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 in the last few years, but implementation remains a problem. There are reports that journalists have been threatened, intimidated, pressured and in some cases physically attacked. The judiciary has so far been slow in handling such cases.’
Progress Reports (2009/2015) from the European Commission for Kosovo are critical of the state of media freedoms in the country; they highlight that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are in practice not guaranteed and that the institutional framework fails in their defense.
Due to the failure of national institutions and international organizations to respond to calls from the European Council to protect journalists and confront the increasing violence that is killing the press freedoms of Kosovo, one journalist at a time, the European Organization for Security and Cooperation launched a free phone line in partnership with the Association of Journalists to provide assistance to those threatened or attacked because of their work; further proof of the breakdown of the rule of law in Kosovo is hardly necessary when a foreign power takes such action ostensibly to protect the very people charged with holding a given government to account.
Based in Pristina, the Association of Journalists is weak and compromised: Kosovo was once ranked eightieth out of 180 countries in a Reporters Without Borders press freedoms index yet as the crisis of suppression deepens the rank sinks lower with every passing year as violations of the press and freedom speech continue without hindrance or meaningful challenge.
Kosovars are a beautiful people and the landlocked territory is naturally rich, yet there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel… and I wonder if like Syria Kosovo is a victim of games that span timescales and geographical distances far beyond its own immediate horizons.
[Cover Picture © Helene Caux]