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Local Journalism at Risk

Article 3 of the series: Surviving Kosovo’s Crowded Media Landscape

Author: Gentiana Paçarizi

Punctuated by its recent history of war and independence, and also the worldwide context post Covid-19, Kosovo’s ‘young’ media landscape is characterised by significant rivalry and limited funding opportunities. Within the global need for media renewal and a constrained Kosovo’s advertising market, the challenge of independence is a tough business, but highlights the resilience of its media outlets.

 

Newspapers or toys – © Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0

 

Local media outlets in Kosovo are unsure how long they will be able to survive

TV Tema, a local television station in the city of Ferizaj, just 30 minutes away from Kosovo's capital, has faced difficulty funding their media production. In response, they started a production department that offers services such as creating commercials and videos for private clients, the revenues from which fund the editorial office and their local journalism.

The founder and director of TV Tema, Visar Hoti, said that this business model has given them more financial security. Until recently, their editorial office was financed by advertising and small projects from external donors.

"We have observed a trend in Kosovo that there is a growing demand for audiovisual content among companies, independent and governmental institutions, and individuals. This is due to the digital revolution and social media," said Hoti. "We conducted a business analysis and found a model that provides us with stability and growth. We have grown compared to last year."

Lack of strategic vision

According to Hoti, Kosovo lacks a strategic vision for the development of local media. This has led to politicisation, the absence of financial stability, and a lack of coverage on community issues and local governance.

Over the last decade, the media landscape in Kosovo has grown significantly alongside technological growth. But these developments have not benefited local journalism.

After 2000, local television and radio stations flooded the Kosovar media market. At that time, there were 21 licensed local television stations serving nearly two million inhabitants. In the second post-war decade, dozens of local online media outlets were also launched.

Unlike national media outlets that received financial and technological support from international donors immediately after the war, the local media did not receive the same level of attention.

Reports by the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), which monitors global media sustainability and has followed the development of the media landscape since 2000, consistently raise two concerns about the local media market in Kosovo. One is that international organisations direct funds to national media, neglecting local media. The other is that more media outlets are being licensed than the local market can accommodate.

In the first decade after the war, television channels, including local ones, were the main recipients of advertisements, from both the government and businesses. Today, local businesses use social media to advertise rather than local media.

This situation has caused almost all local media outlets to struggle financially. While some have managed to find business models to finance their newsrooms, others have had to rely on political ties and favors.

Local online media outlets are often owned or operated by supporters of local political parties. In the local media outlets that support the ruling party you can read about the mayor’s activities. In the opposition-aligned outlets, you find criticism.

However, there are some local media outlets that have preserved their editorial independence. They have done so by finding business models that allow them to not depend on political financial support while covering local issues that are not covered by the national media.

 

Archival equipment for the job – © Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0

 

Obstacles to maintaining local coverage

According to Hoti, while national media correspondents may report on local events, the national audience generally shows little interest in purely local issues.

"The audience in Peja does not want to read about a road in Ferizaj that has not been paved. It is not interesting and has no impact on them. But the local media is indispensable and irreplaceable, as it is a decentralised source of information," said Hoti.

Imer Mushkolaj, head of Press Council of Kosovo (PCK), said that the national media only follow local issues when they are of broader significance. He also noted that even local residents approach national media outlets instead of local ones when they want to publicise their issues. This is similar to how businesses choose to advertise in national media outlets because of the larger audience.

Mushkolaj is unsure whether local media outlets in Kosovo will be able to survive for long. According to him, discussing local media today is quite different to how it was discussed 15 years ago.

"Two or three times a week we check the content from the local media that are PCK members. They are mainly announcements from the municipality, the police, or anything that happens in their region. Then they immediately turn to covering national content," said Mushkolaj. He added that in the past, local television channels used to feature informative programs and news shows. However, today, the majority of these channels have music spots, which reflects their financial situation.

Hoti said that there have been cases before when the local media have not had the financial means to pay the electricity for the transmitter, while there are many local media outlets that do not pay the annual licensing fee to the Independent Media Commission (IMC).

"This is an indicator that the local media, unfortunately, are becoming weaker every day. I wouldn’t be surprised if purely local media outlets cease to exist in the near future," said Mushkolaj.

Hoti also attributes the local media’s dire financial situation to the IMC, which is responsible for licensing broadcasters and media service distribution networks, such as cable distributors. On the list of cable providers, local media is positioned so far down that it takes a few minutes of scrolling to reach them. TV Tema has a three-digit number in the list. According to Hoti, the IMC should ensure more visibility for the local media.

However, Jeton Mehmeti, chairman of IMC, said that they ensure that the local media are shown on every cable provider and that these decisions are not made by the cable providers. According to him, viewers also have the opportunity to create their own list of channels.

"The local media have a terrestrial frequency which is unique to them. This means that people with only one antenna can receive these broadcasts," said Mehmeti. "Also, under IMC regulations, viewers have the ability to rank channels. If a local television channel has good content, viewers can list it as one of the first channels in the list. But how much this affects the businesses that advertise falls outside the jurisdiction of the IMC."

Local media play a crucial role as primary watchdogs in holding local governments accountable. The unstable conditions of local media in Kosovo often lead to the neglect of local community concerns and a limitation on overseeing local government activities. While some media organisations are making efforts to diversify their revenue sources, their future prospects still appear bleak.

About the author:
Gentiana Paçarizi is managing editor at Kosovo 2.0. She has completed a master’s degree in Journalism and Public Relations at the University of Prishtina ‘Hasan Prishtina’.