AJK: Kosovo marks World Press Freedom Day with the slogan “Protect Journalists, Defend the Truth”

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To mark the World Press Freedom Day – on 3 May, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo – AJK, supported by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, the European Union in Kosovo, and the United Nations Kosovo Team, organised today in Pristina a conference dubbed: “Protect Journalists, Defend the Truth”.

The AJK used the event to call for a safer environment for journalists in Kosovo to perform their duties.

‘In the year 2022, AJK recorded a total of 33 cases of attacks against journalists and 11 by the time we speak in 2023. During this period of time, smear campaigns and hate speech were directed towards journalists and media, calling the audience to not trust their work. A part of this campaign comes from the highest political offices in the country”, AJK Board Chairperson, Xhemajl Rexha said.

According to him, the worst attack was the one against journalist, Valon Syla.

“But, what this case showed is a reaction of an entire society which shows media freedom in Kosovo is protected. Freedom of speech is not negotiable”, Rexha added.

Through a video address, Ambassador Michel Davenport, Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, stated that on World Press Freedom Day, it is critical to remember the importance of independent and free media.

“The OSCE mission unreservedly condemns any attempt to threaten, humiliate or harass journalists and media workers in general and will continue to offer maximum support to media professionals,” added Davenport.

EU Ambassador in Kosovo, Tomas Szunyog, noted that despite Kosovo enjoying a lively and pluralistic media environment, physical attacks, threats, and smear campaigns against journalists, women in particular, remain a concern.

“A slight increase in the number of registered attacks against media in 2022, compared to 2021, and the fact that the derogatory statements, smears, and intimidating language against journalists came predominantly from public officials, are both disturbing,” said Szunyog.

He praised Kosovo for hosting and providing shelter to Ukrainian and Afghani journalists pledging further support of the EU and its partners to the development of free and professional media as a pillar of democracy.

UN Development Coordinator, Arnhild Spence, emphasized that when press freedom is threatened, so are all our freedoms.

“Journalists who produce trusted information, help us all make informed decisions, an important element of the democratic process. We must do everything possible to protect them and their work. We echo Ms. Irene Khan UN Special Rapporteur Freedom of Opinion & Expression call to address the past & current violations against journalists in Kosovo. Urging authorities to take appropriate measures to ensure accountability and promote further improvements in press freedom.”, said Spence.

The conference included two-panel discussions.

The first addressed the issue of the safety of journalists while reporting featuring Jehona Grantolli, a member of the Kosovo Prosecution Council; Antigona Uka, Communication Officer at the Supreme Court of Kosovo; Valon Syla, CEO of Gazeta Metro; Qendresa Bellagoshi, a journalist at Klan Kosova; and Jelena Đorđević, a journalist at RTK, as panelists.

The discussion was illustrated by the video confession of the camera operator, Albion Selitaj, who was arrested by the Kosovo Police in February 2022, while he was covering the takeover of one company’s offices by the Kosovo Privatization Agency.

In this panel, the need to increase the punishment of attacks and perpetrators of journalists was discussed, since journalists still feel unsafe to report, due to the increase in threats, attacks, and impunity. Competent institutions pledged that they will treat the cases of journalists with priority and that they will cooperate and be more transparent with the AJK, journalists, and the media.

The second panel discussion focused on the position of journalists in newsrooms throughout the years. Dafina Halili, a journalist in Kosovo2.0; Imer Mushkolaj, Executive Director of the Kosovo Press Council; Teuta Arifaj, editor in ATV; Valbona Bytyqi, a journalist at KTV; and Naim Sadiku, Member of the AJK Board, examined the issue.

In this panel, it was discussed about some of the problems that journalists unfortunately still face, such as working hours, salaries, work contracts, payment of contributions, and other issues as such. In addition to these, the position of women in the newsroom, as well as sexual harassment against them, was mentioned as a very disturbing problem. The need for the unity of journalists to report as much as possible the problems they have at work, as well as greater support in addressing these issues, was emphasized.