A decision by Kosovo’s government to revoke the business license of one of the country’s leading media outlets has sparked criticism and protests.
The dispute centers on the business registration documents of broadcaster Klan Kosova, which authorities say are in violation of the constitution.
But analysts say the move to revoke a business license is at odds with laws regulating corporate activities, and they expressed concerns about action against a media outlet seen as critical of the government.
The decision can be appealed in court. As of Wednesday, Klan Kosova, one of the largest privately owned broadcasters in the country, remained on the air.
The government said that in its business registration, Klan Kosova’s owners had named municipalities in Kosovo as if they belonged to Serbia.
A copy of the company’s registration certificate obtained by VOA shows the station is now registered with a Kosovo address.
The station said it had changed its business documents and as of June 20 had listed Kosovo in all its records at the request of the Independent Media Commission, the country’s media regulatory body.
Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 and is recognized by the United States and most of Europe. But Serbia does not recognize Kosovo and claims it as part of its territory. Tensions between the two can run high.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti dismissed criticism of his government’s decision on Klan Kosova.
“Media freedoms are vital: an attack on them is an attack on democracy. But democracy is also assaulted when powerful businesspeople break the law for financial gain. And enforcing the law against such people’s violations does not — in any way — constitute an attack on media freedom,” Kurti wrote Saturday on social media.
Ardi Shita, a Kosovo commercial lawyer, said the government’s ruling is at odds with the law that regulates corporations.
“Here we have a serious problem with the interpretation and the implementation of the legal dispositions on corporations,” he told VOA.
The Association of Journalists of Kosovo said it was alarmed about what it described as a “politically motivated” decision.
“This is the first time a decision was made to shut down a media since the end of the war,” the association said in a statement.
Embassies for the U.S, Britain, France, Germany and Italy all registered concern, calling it a “disproportionate decision that will have repercussions on media plurality.”
International media watchdogs also said they were worried by the move.
“We believe that suspension of the license of a media, which can lead to revocation of its broadcasting license, is an extreme measure and should only be taken in extraordinary circumstances,” Attila Mong, Europe representative at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA.
U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier said Tuesday that he hoped for “a transparent, fair and swift” resolution to the dispute.
“Every time a government takes a decision that could impact a media’s ability to broadcast, at least it should be done after a very careful consideration and as a last resort, because the freedom of media is very important,” he told reporters in the capital, Pristina.
Kurti argued on Saturday that “following registration rules is a legal duty, not a ‘technicality.’”
“Enforcing such rules against a single violator does nothing to threaten media pluralism,” he said on social media.
But Ilir Ibrahimi of the Kosovo Business Club, an independent entity that advocates for investment in Kosovo, said such moves could damage the country’s economic prospects.
“The main problem that Kosovo’s economy faces are the internal attacks against it from the government. If these big corporations leave and they decide to invest elsewhere … then Kosovo’s economy will collapse,” he told VOA.
As journalists in Kosovo marched toward the government building in Pristina on Monday holding a banner that said, “Democracy dies in darkness,” Klan Kosova’s editor-in-chief, Gazmend Syla, said the company would take the matter to the courts.
“We strongly believe in justice, and we strongly believe that the courts will not fall under the government’s or anybody’s influence,” Syla said.
Source : VOA News