At the height of disinformation dissemination, journalists in Kosovo argue that reporting challenges throughout the region have increased immensely.

The professionals argue that the media outlets who do not have physical presence throughout the Balkans should pay extra care to filtering the information they republish but should also be very cautious which media outlets’ content they republish.

The multiple award winning investigative journalist, Serbeze Haxhiaj, who works as an editor at Kosovo’s Public Broadcaster, but also as a reporter for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), says that the developments in the region are in the focus of her professional interests.

The regional offices of BIRN, she says, are a value for providing accurate information and the context of the news and for journalistic investigations, but challenges remain.

“Anyway, this often doesn’t help, because of the media landscape and the struggle to get the information on time. Also, the mechanisms that are supposed to help get this information, such as the Law on public documents access or the Ombudsman have been proven ineffective for improving this situation”, she says.

Haxhiaj highlights the role that agenda-serving media outlets play in launching and distributing propaganda.

“The main source of fake news or propaganda distribution are mainly the media outlets which are connected with the groups in power, but also with the opposition groups, part of them also with interest groups that generally dominate the media scene”, she claims.

The investigative journalist criticizes the way the media function, which, she argues, “are informal businesses with uncontrolled humongous sums”,

A serious analysis of political or social events is what Haxhiaj claims is missing in the regional media landscape.

“The public is being fed mainly superficial and unverified news, while the technological development and the enormous increase of the number of online media is pushing the media towards tabloid culture and reduces the number of genuine investigations that provide the full picture”, Haxhiaj wraps.

No one in Kosovo at the moment has clue of the real number of the registered media outlets, especially news sites.

RTV 21 is one of three televisions that broadcast nationally. The other two are KTV and the public broadcaster RTK, which also has a North Macedonian branch.

TV reporting on regional issues brings additional burdens, according to Durim Nitaj, a reporter for RTV 21.

He says that RTV 21 in North Macedonia has been a huge help in producing a wider coverage on the Balkans for Kosovo’s audience.

“When you have to deal with news from the region and you don’t have someone on the field, it’s very difficult. It is even harder when you don’t have collaboration with reliable media in the respective country”, Nitaj says.

He states that this puts an obligation to the journalists to do comparative analyses of different reports from different media in the region.

“The risk of fake news is always present. The pressure to be the first to report something has often caused fake news or misinformation spread. This happens if you rely on suspicious media or don’t have relaible sources in your newspiece”, he argues.

The professional war on “fake news”

Fake news is being spread by the politicians, whose sole mission sometimes is to discredit media, but also it is countered by the professionals in the field.

Faton Ismajli, teaching assistant at the Journalism Departament of the Prishtina University “Hasan Prishtina”, states the importance of training journalists and editors to combat disinformation.

He stresses that the risk of disinformation increases in the Balkans.

Ismajli advises media outlets to train their staff for identifying false information.

“In order to eliminate the distribution of fake news, journalists should be further trained and educated to not fall prey to those kind of information. Besides journalist’s trainings, media outlets should intensify their efforts in other instances, such as the editor’s desk who should filter news and not publish unbalanced news that don’t have the necessary sources”, he concludes.

Profesional media in Kosovo have also been trying to differentiate themselves from online publishers that release unverified information and often fake news.

KALLXO.com, an online investigative media (product of BIRN and Internews Kosova) have launched a fact checking task force called “KRYPOMETRI” which besides the statements, measures the truthfulnes of the media products, as well.

In their publications they have pinpointed media who publish disinformation ranging from fake fires to fake deaths, but also misinformation about court proceedings.

Doruntina Baliu, journalist and editor with BIRN Kosovo