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Wrong Questions

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Britain’s isn’t the only newspaper culture to make a habit of naming and shaming. Last year in Serbia a national tabloid vilified the human rights activist Sonja Biserko, calling her a traitor and a threat to ‘Serbian homogeneity’; it also published her home address. In Kosovo, despite bitter memories of Serbian domination, this practice of whipping up animosity against public enemies, while canvassing a paper’s readership for henchmen, hasn’t gone away.

The journalist Jeta Xharra is the latest public enemy. She presents Life in Kosovo, a weekly televised debate on current affairs for the public service channel RTK. The station’s said to be at the mercy of political interests but Xharra’s show, broadcast in Albanian, operates at arm’s length from the territory’s big men and from time to time looks long and hard at the arts of corruption, patronage and intimidation, thriving in post-intervention Kosovo.

Recently the government-backed Albanian-language tabloid Infopress issued a licence to readers to do away with Xharra: ‘Jeta has brought it upon herself to have a short life.’ The remark was one in a series of Infopress shock-tactics designed to unnerve the show’s editorial team, including a front-page splash announcing that Xharra was ‘an agent of the Serbian secret police’.

The trouble began at the end of May with a transmission about freedom of speech in Kosovo. Not enough, to judge by the evidence, despite its being marshalled on an outspoken current affairs programme. On censorship lite, there was the story of a 16-year-old member of Plisat, the Pristina football team’s fan club, arrested after a stash of controlled substances (Class A) disappeared from Kosovo’s police headquarters. The young man was singled out when a group of Plisat members raised a banner addressed to the Kosovo Police Service, asking them to name their price for a kilo of heroin. Wrong question.

On the darker side, a journalist from Life in Kosovo (hereinafter ‘Short Life in Kosovo’) was shown leaving a former KLA stronghold under police escort, after asking whether the mayor had delivered on his election promises. Wrong question. Sami Lushtaku, ex-KLA commander, is not a mayor to meddle with – and he’s one of the driving forces behind the hate campaign – yet as journalists like Xharra and her colleagues argue, sticking to the right questions merely prolongs the age of fiefdoms. The press council agrees – it’s fined Infopress the princely sum of 1000 euros for breach of conduct and the paper has called a halt to its ‘debate’ on Life in Kosovo. For the moment, anyhow.

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