SERBIA AND KOSOVO

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS UNDER PRESSURE

Watch the documentary "Druga Strana", The Other Side. Click on the subtitles to follow in English.

Media-experienced Serbian sociologist Milena Maric and Albanian journalist Idriz Seferi visited independent local editorial offices in Serbia and Kosovo as part of a film project and conducted interviews on specific working conditions and general conditions on-site.

In the following interview, Maric and Seferi explain for FNF Western Balkans how they came up with the idea of producing this film and what they experienced during its shooting.

Milena, you are a sociologist from Serbia with experience in screenwriting, and you, Idriz, a journalist from Kosovo experienced in making documentaries, living and working in Belgrade. Where did the idea of making this documentary come from?

We have known each other for more than 15 years and have always talked a lot about the relations between Serbia and Kosovo and their impact on the people. A lot has happened in the meantime – Kosovo has declared its independence; there have been various minor and major incidents; political provocations; customs issues ... even now the situation is relatively tense. But in all these years there has been a lack of objective and factual information. What was signed where? Who agreed on what? During all these events, however, tens of thousands of people on both sides have been naturally eager to cooperate. The situation is not the same as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia or Montenegro. Serbs and Albanians do not speak a similar language. Almost everything is in the hands of the media. If the media is under the control of politicians, then everything is in the hands of the politicians. We wanted to find out how things would look if this barrier were overcome. What do the journalists and editors of the local newsrooms actually think about all this?

What challenges did you face on-site? Were there any unpleasant situations arising from the fact that a Serb and an Albanian from Kosovo were making a documentary about local newsrooms?

When we agreed on the details of the trip, Idro told me that I would experience a culture shock, as this was to be my first visit to Kosovo. The intention of this "announcement" was to make me anticipate a certain backwardness and underdevelopment. In fact, it was the exact opposite! Many people from Kosovo live in the West, but they maintain close relations with their families, help them financially and come to visit. This has given the Kosovar cities with a significant diaspora the image of more relaxed European cities. During the trip, we had no problems or inconveniences; everyone was extremely warm and helpful. It is clear that the bonds between people are still very strong despite national and political divisions. People simply live in the same place. The film team is Serbian-Albanian, which is how the film was made. One of the hidden messages of this film is exactly that: we can and should work together on important – but also beautiful – things!

Entrance of TV Mitrovica

Serbian sociologist Milena Maric and Albanian journalist Idriz Seferi

Mitrovica is a city in the north of Kosovo. It is divided by the Ibar River into a northern, predominantly Serbian-speaking part and a southern, predominantly Albanian-speaking part.

After the filming, what did you discover or see as an additional need that would facilitate the work of local newsrooms and what would improve media freedom?

Even though we had neither finished everything nor yet sifted through the material, our first hypotheses had already been confirmed during the first two shooting sessions. The pressure of the regime, especially on local media, is enormous and often subtly exerted through financial pressure. The self-sufficiency of the local media is an almost unattainable ideal. Audiences are small and limited, advertising space is relatively cheap and insufficient to cover costs.

Another major and widespread problem for the media is getting information. We spoke to editorial offices whose editors and journalists adhere to professional standards and journalistic ethics. Almost all of them reported unanimously that it is common for officials to be unavailable to them, or for them not to be invited to press conferences or simply to be ignored. In some cases, the pressure is still very direct, for example through the plagiarism or hacking of the websites of these media.

MORE ABOUT THE HUMAN RIGHTS WORK OF THE FRIEDRICH NAUMANN FOUNDATION FOR FREEDOM:

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