Unintended consequences accompany passage of broadcasting law in Kosovo

05/04/2012

Lawmakers got a little bit more than they bargained for in amending Kosovo's broadcasting law.

By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 05/04/12

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Kosovo's journalism corps will expand with the amendment of the public broadcasting law, which the EU Office in Pristina emphasised provides the public broadcaster with safeguards for its editorial independence. [Reuters]

The vote to amend the public broadcasting law was expected to attract controversy, aiming as it was to add a new TV channel, broadcasting in Serbian, under the umbrella of public broadcaster RTK as envisioned in the Ahtisaari Plan. But in addition, MPs inadvertently voted on March 29th to add a third RTK channel, which will broadcast not in Albanian or Serbian, but in purely minority languages.

It was Bosnian member of the assembly Duda Balje who proposed the third channel. The majority of deputies voted in favour, complaining only afterwards that they were not aware of the content, since Balje had proposed it in Bosnian.

International Civilian Representative Pieter Feith praised the government and parliament for placing RTK on a solid legal basis and for providing the Serb community a television channel in their own language.

"The RTK Law includes provisions for minority broadcasting that fully meet international standards and will bring real benefit to Serb and other non-majority citizens in Kosovo," said Feith.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Petar Miletic, a Serb, was likewise pleased, noting the law incorporated all amendments proposed by the Serbian community, including one that gives the community the authority to appoint the director of the channel.

The vote occurred after more than a year of discussions due to disagreements over the Serbian channel and how to resolve sustain it financially.

In the next three years, RTK will receive 0.7% of the Kosovo budget, or around 9m euros a year. RTK General Director Sylejman Shaqiri says the percentage is lower than he expected, and may not be enough.

"It does not ensure basic parametres for a mid-term development, because in the near future we have the challenge of digitalisation, functionalising the second channel in Serbian, and as it was voted in the Assembly, there is a chance to have also the third channel", he told RTK.

Since the state budget will provide the main source of funding, RTK will be a state service, notes Naile Selimaj Krasniqi, executive director of the Independent Media Commission (IMC). The bright side of that, she says, is the fact that determining the budget in advance for the next three years will preclude political interference.

"The IMC strongly supported RTK financing directly from public taxes, to ensure it becomes completely public and serves the public," she told SETimes. But she also urged RTK to immediately start searching for options to launch a public, independent financing system.

For sociologist and TV personality Ulpiana Lama, the good news is that the language principle is finally being applied, which means new channels that will enable a dignified representation of minorities. The bad news is the government funding. "The darkest side of the law is the fact that it accepts government mediation," Lama told SETimes.

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Krasniqi also criticises the difference in appointing directors. While the RTK Board has the authority to appoint the director of the main TV channel, it's up to the Serbs to choose their director. "With double standards applied in the law, there is the opportunity for outside interference in the new channel," she said.

Zivojin Rakocevic, deputy head of the Kosovo Serbs Association of Journalists, is furious about adding a Serbian channel to RTK, describing it as tantamount to discrimination.

"This is because we were pushed out of the process which we initiated in front of the international community," Rakocevic told SETimes. His media association raised the idea of a Serbian TV channel during Kosovo status negotiations back in 2006. They pushed for an independent Serbian channel based in Gracanica.

The real question may be whether the Serbian channel will be regarded positively by the Serbian community. It won't initially, predicts Evliana Berani, chief editor of Infoglobi online news agency. "It is a battle that RTK might win at the end of the day only if it shows a professional approach. Otherwise, it will easily lose," she told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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