***UPDATE*** From BalkanInsight.com:

…In two pieces penned for the newspaper Infopress…[Xharra] and RTK…are severely criticised for a recent debate on press freedom.

In one piece, Ramiz Sala equates “Jeta Xharra and BIRN” to the UDB, the Serbian secret service.

In another article, Ilir Gashi writes: “RTK, with its [show] Jeta në Kosovë, truly is the biggest after-war offence done to this territory.”

The show, which sparked controversy last Thursday, discussed how government advertising is used to influence the media landscape and recent dismissals of journalists who inconvenienced the authorities.

It featured a video report in which the BIRN Kosovo news team was expelled from the Office for Public Information of the municipality of Skenderaj in the central Kosovo Drenica region, and forced to leave town by an armed man who confiscated their footage.

Infopress newspaper, which receives the lion’s share of government advertising revenues, has led the campaign with a series of inflammatory articles on Xharra and the programme, claiming they had set out to denigrate the Drenica region. Threatening emails followed, including death threats, and the newspaper itself published openly abusive and threatening letters from readers.

On Thursday, Infopress appeared to issue a death threat against Xharra, commenting: “Jeta has brought it upon herself to have a short life.”

Non-governmental organisations have raised concerns about freedom of speech in Kosovo in an open letter in response to a campaign against Jeta Xharra. In the open letter, released on June 4, nine NGOs and dozens of individuals expressed concern over the intensifying campaign against Xharra.

Regarding the attacks on Xharra, the NGOs wrote: “The increasingly common practice of Infopress asserting that particular individuals are ‘Serb spies’ is becoming a disturbing issue.”

The international community’s top envoy in Kosovo, Pieter Feith, and the EU’s External Relations Committee office in Pristina, RELEX Kosovo, have defended the show and press freedom in recent days.

***UPDATE*** From BalkanInsight.com:

Kosovar journalist Jeta Xharra is a spy for Belgrade, if one is to believe a campaign waged by pro-government press over the past week targeting the “Life in Kosovo” program, which she hosts on public television and which dares to address controversial and even taboo topics.

Xharra is the director of BIRN Kosovo, which produces “Life in Kosovo,” aired weekly on public broadcaster RTK. Screaming front-page headlines on the Infopress tabloid newspaper reached a climax in recent days, stating “Jeta Xharra is an Agent of the Serbian Secret Police,” and calling for the programme to be taken off the air.

“This is an explosive allegation in a society still traumatized by Serbian oppression and wartime atrocities, and is a clear incitement to acts of violence against our Kosovo staff,” said Xharra. [The girl still believes her people’s lies about the war.]

Xharra said: “We have nothing against Drenica. These are vicious and manipulative smears. On the contrary, our show has on several occasions dealt with the negligence of officials, which contributes to Drenica’s/Skenderaj continuous poverty”

Given Infopress’ closeness to the government, she added: “I would like to see the government explicitly distance itself from these disgraceful attacks. We need to be reassured that this is neither part of a wider campaign to put the public broadcaster under state control nor to silence an incisive and impartial source of information ahead of local elections scheduled for this autumn.”

“Life in Kosovo” is a very popular show, despite the death threats, spy allegations and negative press. It touches on taboo topics ranging from homosexuality to corruption of public officials and is Kosovo’s most-watched current affairs program.

A few days ago, I posted that the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo in June compared Thaci’s government to the old communist regime, adding that the government’s interference in freedom of speech is risking democracy. Today we have an update along those lines, from Deutsche Presse Agenteur:

European agency says Kosovo television “media arm” of ruler

The European Broadcasting Union on Monday slammed Hashim Thaci, the prime minister of Kosovo, accusing him of turning the public service broadcaster into a “media arm of the ruling party.”

“Pressure from your government transformed [public broadcaster] RTK from being a balanced supplier of news into a media arm of the ruling party and of yourself as prime minister. Critical or alternative voices have been suppressed.”

Another report: Kosovo’s Thaci accused of interfering with public broadcaster

PRISTINA, Kosovo — The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) on Monday (October 26th) accused Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of turning Kosovo’s Public Broadcaster, the RTK, into a “media arm of the ruling party”. EBU head Jean Reveillon sent a letter to Thaci saying that the RTK faces political and economic interference from the government.

“What we are now seeing is pressure from the Kosovo government to turn RTK into an uncritical state broadcaster — a fact that will be beneficial neither to the citizens of Kosovo nor to your ambitions for more international recognition of your country,” Reveillon wrote. His letter went on to say that since Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, interference has grown and led to the resignation of RTK’s general director in September. The EBU represents 125 national broadcasters and promotes public service media in Europe and around the world. (Kosova Sot, Koha Ditore, Express, Lajm, Epoka e Re - 27/10/09)

Ironically and farcically, last night a commercial campaign to improve Kosovo’s image (and to get you to invest and travel there) was kicked off by Kosovo, which last year dubbed itself “NEWBORN.” The commercial is airing on CNN, BBC, Bloomberg, and Euronews. All of which can now also proudly call themselves extensions of the Thaci government, that is, of the KLA — as the U.S. government has been for the past decade.

The slogan is “Kosovo: The Young Europeans.” And young they’ll stay, as STILLBORNS tend to do.

Just to recap from the previous post, RTK came into the spotlight in June, when an Albanian reporter looking into KLA crimes was tarred as — what else? — a Serbian spy:

…[Journalist Jeta] Xharra is the host of a popular current affairs program, “Life in Kosovo”, produced by BIRN [Balkan Investigative Reporting Network] and aired weekly by public broadcaster RTK.

The show has frequently come under attack for its investigation of issues such as alleged atrocities committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, among other issues. In the past days, Xharra has been the victim of an intensifying campaign due to the 31 May airing of a programme looking into freedom of speech in Kosovo. The Infopress tabloid newspaper, beholden to the government for advertising revenues, has labeled her a “spy for Serbia” and published threatening letters from readers. […]

To shut all the distraught Albanians up, the KLA rulers of Kosovo are going to have to do what they laughably convinced the world that Milosevic was trying to do: get rid of every last one of them.

Also in June, as posted previously, Balkan Insight reported:

Free Press Threatened in Kosovo

BIRN [Balkan Investigative Reporting Network] team investigated concerns about freedom of the press in Kosovo and discovered the media’s critical voice is being jeopardised by conflicts of interests, political and business interference and the psychological power of Omerta.

Television Journalist Jeton Llapashtica claims to have lost his job because of the questions he asked. Not because his line of inquiry was irrelevant, or his delivery poor, but because he directed “very tough questions” at Kosovo’s government spokesperson, Memli Krasniqi.

During his interview with Krasniqi, Llapashtica asked the Government’s spokesperson to comment on Kosovar rock band Troja and their song Clown’s testament, in which the political apparatus in Kosovo is criticised as an organized team which is stealing land.

Llapashtica said he was told: “You shouldn’t have asked him that question because you provoked him very much. We shouldn’t taunt the government people. They give us advertisements.”

…[Besa TV director Muhamer Fusha] added that “being critical, and a local TV station, is not in the best interest of local TV station”. He said it was [for] the national media to tackle the bigger issues.

While compiling a report in Skenderaj Municipality, which is led by the PDK, Kosovo Democratic Party, a BIRN team was attacked and impeded from filming. Journalist for Jeta në Kosovë Jeta Abazi was trying to report on failures by the mayor.

According to Glauk Konjufca, from the Vetevendosje! Movement, there is no freedom of expression in Kosovo. “There is an entire mechanism of small scale blackmails, threats, phone calls and pressure threatening the freedom of speech either on behalf of the government or the institutions”.

And, according to the US Department of State in 2008: “Journalists in Kosovo are intimidated by the government officials, public service workers, as well as by businesses…” […]

Ah, so yet again Albanians are discovering what it feels like to be Serbian in Kosovo. As for “the psychological power of Omerta,” please note that the pressured TV station is, after all, named Besa. That’s Albanian for Omerta.