2. August. 2021. | 09:46

Serbian Media Reporting in Kosovo: Regionally Significant Locals

Given the overall situation in Kosovo, news produced locally by Serbian media is often of regional importance, which represents a special responsibility of media outlets from isolated areas, because events in them, unfortunately, most often negatively, reflect much further and affect not only relations between Pristina and Belgrade, but also the situation in the region. One of the characteristic examples is Radio Gorazdevac, which produces regionally relevant news in an environment with several hundred potential listeners. The main task of these outlets, in the context of the local nature of the Serbian media, is to be predominantly news producers, but not exclusively of local content.


















Photo: Igor Vuković

The work of the media in Kosovo is regulated by a number of legal acts. Freedom of expression and freedom of the media are guaranteed by the Constitution, and the laws regulate many aspects of information in the field of information: the work of the public service, protection of privacy, hate speech, slander and insult, respect for copyright. Serbian-language media in Kosovo are mostly registered with the Independent Media Commission (IMC) pursuant to Law no. 04/ L-44.

A small pond, lots of tiny crocodiles

According to the results of the research "Openness of Serbian media in Kosovo" which were published in April this year by the portal "Black and White World" and Media Center from Čaglavica, within the Open Initiative of the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society (KFOS), a total of 48 media reporting in Serbian are active in Kosovo: eight TV and 21 radio stations, 13 internet portals and six video productions.

This number of media is primarily a consequence of the large number of licenses issued by the Interim Media Commissioner (predecessor of today's IMC) immediately after the war, which served as a substitute for non-existent freedom and RTV frequencies that would "cover" the whole of Kosovo. Most licenses were then granted to enclave radio stations with low-power transmitters, which, despite their apparent presence, actually meant a fragmentation of their range and influence. Some media later overcame this situation through their websites, networking and production cooperation with Belgrade media that have national frequencies.

According to funding sources, Serbian media in Kosovo can be divided into those that are independently (mainly project) funded, and those that are funded from the budgets of local and central institutions from Kosovo, but also from Serbia. Some local media are also registered as non-governmental organizations, so they can apply for funds intended for the development of civil society.

Most media reports and news on a daily basis come from central and northern Kosovo, and significantly less from Metohija, Gora and the municipality of Zubin Potok in the far northwest.

The following contribute the most to the openness of the Serbian media in Kosovo: promotion of local topics and examples of cooperation of members of various communities, officials, analysts and members of civil society, and the following reasons hinder the most: the low level of mutual cooperation outside established practices and networks, unavailability and lack of relevant data, lack of documents, and partly communication in the Serbian language, endangering the safety of journalists, censorship and self-censorship.

"A la carte" challenges

Kosovo Serb media are predominantly located in semi-urban and rural areas. South of the river Ibar, they are located exclusively in rural areas. The situation is somewhat more favorable in the north of Kosovo, where a number of media houses are located in North Mitrovica, Zvečan and Leposavić, as more or less urban areas.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable polarization of Kosovo Serb media according their funding model. Independent media are in an increasingly difficult position, and attachment to donors due to the lack of a stable and long-term source of funding makes their work difficult. Such media have an increasing need to separate journalistic and administrative-financial affairs within the newsroom. Most local media outlets have few employees, and only a few employ staff who can write quality and successful project proposals.

Representatives of local and central institutions are very often unavailable for comment to a number of media, mostly independent. Journalists also have problems with the selective availability of daily information regarding local institutions, while cooperation with the central level is burdened with problems with official documents in Serbian, which often do not exist at all or are without adequate translation. Although Serbian is formally in official use in Kosovo and is equal to Albanian, on a number of occasions, there is no interpreting at press conferences organized by the institutions. Journalists remain deprived of it at the sessions of the Assembly of Kosovo - every time Serbian deputies do not attend the session.

Politics is the dominant topic in the Kosovo Serb media, so very often other topics covered, consciously or unconsciously, are "refracted" through the prism of politics and the current political situation, which pushes the problems of "ordinary citizens" and everyday life into the background.

The number of employees in the Kosovo media in the Serbian language rarely exceeds ten, and local RTV stations have the most employees. Since the conflict in Kosovo, there has been a stronger or weaker trend of Serb emigration which results in a lack of (not only highly educated) staff. The "takeover" of staff from smaller newsrooms by more solvent, most often budget-funded media is also clearly seen as a bad practice.

Typical advertisers in local media in Kosovo are: large stores, hotels, restaurants, fuel resale companies, construction companies and private banks. Due to the specific conditions and environments in which Kosovo Serbs live, their media only occasionally generate minimal and insignificant revenues from advertising and sponsorships, since the entire community survives, primarily thanks to jobs in the education and health sectors financed by the Republic of Serbia. The economy, outside of trade and services, is almost non-existent in Serbian communities, and Kosovo Albanians are not interested and reject offers for advertising on Serbian-language media programs.

The fragmentation of Serbian communities and life in isolated enclaves makes it almost completely meaningless to properly research the potential media market, which would contribute to better recognition of trends and patterns of audience behavior and enable the media to improve their offer.

According to the "Reporters Without Borders" index, which measures the danger of engaging in the journalistic profession, Kosovo is ranked 78th on the list of 210 countries and territories in 2021. In the report of the European Commission Kosovo's 2020 progress indicates that "rule of law institutions must continue their efforts to monitor threats and attacks on journalists" and adds that "there are still concerns about public appeasement and threats against journalists." There are particular concerns about freedom of expression in northern Kosovo, including self-censorship." According to the Freedom House index for 2021 freedom of expression in Kosovo was rated 2 out of 4, with the remark that “political influence on the media sector remains at a worrying level, while a number of journalists were attacked during 2020. Growing tensions over political events in Kosovo during the year have also resulted in an increase in the number of journalists threatened or harassed on social media."

Original content balances the image

Given the overall situation in Kosovo, news produced locally by Serbian media is often of regional importance, which represents a special responsibility of media outlets from isolated areas, because events in them, unfortunately, most often negatively, reflect much further and affect not only relations between Pristina and Belgrade, but also the situation in the region. One of the characteristic examples is Radio Gorazdevac, which produces regionally relevant news in an environment with several hundred potential listeners. Not far from Peja, this village in Metohija is one of only a few remaining Serb enclaves (Velika Hoča, Osojane, Brestovik, Crkolez…) which are, to a greater or lesser extent, isolated from the surrounding Albanian population and do not belong to Kosovo municipalities with a Serb majority.

The main task of these outlets, in the context of the local nature of the Serbian media, is to be predominantly news producers, but not exclusively of local content. It is not limited to events in the municipality that is the seat of the media, but it usually includes the most important news about events throughout Kosovo, central Serbia and the region.

Given that some journalists have two decades of work experience in the local media, their journalistic knowledge and skills are adequate, which is the result of numerous trainings they have undergone. Their knowledge is generally satisfactory in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT).

In the central news program, which is usually broadcast in the early evening hours, the percentage of own material varies from one news outlet to another. While local broadcasters produce two-thirds to three-quarters of that program, Internet portals have a smaller share of original production in their content. Local news usually take up the prime and the largest part of the show, followed by social, less often economic, and then topics from culture and sports. In addition to local news, national and world news are constantly included in the news programs of local media.

The unstable political situation in Kosovo and the unresolved relations between Belgrade and Pristina make Kosovo's Serbian media coverage significantly focused on high politics dominated by opposing narratives, resulting in the takeover of mostly negative news from Belgrade newsrooms and agencies, while the views and opinions of the officials from the other side are mostly learned indirectly, from the Kosovo media in Albanian. When it comes to original content, the image of "others" and "different" is much more balanced, mostly without negative stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination against Albanians.

The law also regulates the existence of Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK) as a public service. According to Kosovo Serb media professionals (and not only them), public service regulations have been waiting for years for changes.

RTK2 is a Serbian language channel created in 2012, based on Article 59 of the Constitution of Kosovo. It states that "Kosovo will take all necessary measures to ensure an international frequency plan, which allows Kosovo Serbs access to a licensed independent Serbian-language television channel, throughout the territory." Kosovo Serbs are still waiting for these provisions to be met, and for a "licensed independent television channel throughout Kosovo" to receive a Serb-majority editorial and management board, an all-Kosovo terrestrial frequency, a headquarters in Gracanica and a mandatory purchase of 40% of the program from local TV productions. In this way, it could significantly influence the improvement of the overall situation in the professional and financial sense in the Kosovo media in the Serbian language. If real progress is to be made, the support and supervision of the international community is necessary. It is also challenging to find a solution for stable and sustainable financing of the entire public (media) service, which currently depends entirely on the Kosovo budget.

The only print media in the Serbian language is the weekly "Jedinstvo", in which texts from the framework of basic journalistic genres are most often published: news and reports. They represent important documentary facts about Serb communities in Kosovo. Unfortunately, the lack of periodicals (weeklies) with independent analyzes, research texts and the opening of new topics is clearly visible.

A good part of the Kosovo media in the Serbian language cooperates through three networks: Kosma network, Independent TV network, and the Most Network.

However, Belgrade's electronic media, i.e. TV stations with a national frequency, are still the most important source of information for Kosovo Serbs. The network of correspondents that these houses (RTS, RTV, TV Prva…) have on the field every day significantly contributes to this.

Trust and communication with the audience

About two-thirds of Kosovo Serbs (64.5%) are mostly or fully informed by and trust the Serb-language media in Kosovo, according to the aforementioned "Openness of Serb Media in Kosovo" report. More than half of them (54.4%) actively follow the topic of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina through these media, and 40.2% the topic of relations between Serbs and Albanians. As many as 60% of respondents believe that the media coverage in the Serbian language from Kosovo about the COVID-19 pandemic was adequate, clear and understandable. Long-lasting Internet portals enjoy the great trust of their readers. Timely publication of verified and relevant information has greatly contributed to the formation of everyday habits in a part of the audience, whose day begins and ends with an insight into the contents of these sites, usually on a mobile phone, less often on a laptop or desktop computer. In isolated Serb communities in Kosovo, a number of local media have the role of small public services, as opposed to those focused on pure entertainment and representing an economic category.

The only mechanism used by the Kosovo media in Serbian to interact with the public is social networks. Most local media use Facebook and YouTube, less often Twitter and Instagram. They obtain information about the audience via social networks, most often only in terms of the number of followers, the number of video views, page views, as well as "likes" and "shares". A number of media use Google Analytics to track traffic to Internet portals, while more advanced software tools dedicated to content analysis are extremely rare.

True independence as a precondition for the future

The Serbian media in Kosovo is a dynamic and pluralistic group that is one of the healthiest parts of society and is able to respond to isolation. Dialogue among colleagues is possible and often yields results. The community, which has been in the forming for two decades, has no problems in contacts with the Kosovo Albanian media community because there is no decisive influence of politics, so there is no domination. On the Serbian side, media that operate as independent entities have developed, with the exception of RTK2, which would have to be transformed. Kosovo media in the Serbian language work within the code of ethics in relation to the majority community, so there are generally no significant problems in mutual communication and relations.

Written by: Goran Avramović, Editor-in-Chief of RTV Kim


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