Kosovo's broadcast regulatory agency has fallen behind on handling rule violations, critics say, and transitioning to digital broadcasting.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 29/10/12
Kosovo's broadcast regulatory agency has numerous unresolved enforcement issues. [Reuters]
Observers and experts are calling for the media regulatory agency in Kosovo to more firmly monitor broadcast standards and practices.
Established in 2005, Kosovo's Independent Media Commission (IMC) includes 31 staff members and seven board members who regulate the frequency spectrum and enforce broadcast rules. Critics say the IMC has become politicised and has fallen behind on handling rules violations.
Milazim Krasniqi, dean of the journalism department at the University of Pristina, told SETimes that the Independent Media Commission was active in Kosovo during the UNMIK period, but it was under political pressure, which remains a problem.
"Since the Kosovarisation of IMC, there has been a weakening of the role of this institution, because noncompetent people are chosen as members of the board," Krasniqi said. "They were people who have not gone there to strengthen IMC and to strengthen legality, but simply to carry out some partial interests.
"IMC, in recent years, has been diminished to its functioning and its impact. The fact is that Kosovo has a local broadcaster anarchy which has destroyed the advertising market … and IMC has not been able to impose order in this area."
According to a commission report for 2011, 19 local and regional broadcasters have violated regulations that prohibit teleshopping advertisements during certain hours of the day. All 19 have continued these broadcasts in spite of warnings from the IMC. The agency's legal department handled 18 cases of rules violations last year, mostly involving advertising.
There were 23 cases dealing with regulations involving protection of minors from harmful content. Broadcasters did not comply with the IMC's written notices in five of those cases. There were also 86 cases of failure to pay licensing fees, and 23 of those have proceeded to the Economic Court of Pristina.
Krasniqi said the IMC has been focused only on the public broadcasters, enabling chaos in the broadcasting market in Kosovo.
"There should have been efforts for disciplining local and regional television, because they have degenerated the market, have broken the public's taste and have abnormally entered a race with national broadcasters," Krasniqi said.
The existence of a broadcast regulator is essential, not only to allocate frequencies but also to regulate programme content. The OSCE mission in Kosovo said without such authority the electronic media market would be in disarray.
"Delays in the appointment of the IMC members affected not only the work of the office but also the entire media market in Kosovo," Nikola Gaon, spokesperson for the OSCE mission in Kosovo told SETimes. "Many unresolved cases had piled up in the IMC office and the development of the strategy for the introduction of the digital terrestrial television standards in Kosovo is pending."
IMC spokeswoman Fikrete Cocaj said the commission is "working intensely" to finalise its digital transition strategy. She said accusations that the IMC is subject to political manipulation are unfounded.
"IMC staff members do not receive instructions from any other person or entity, including governmental entities," Cocaj said. "IMC independence is respected at all times and no person or entity shall be allowed to influence the members of the IMC in the realisation of their duties."