Tiffany Ommundsen

Tiffany Ommundsen (Kosovo Women’s Network - KWN): Tiffany earned her Bachelor of Arts from Fairfield University in 2007. She also studied abroad in Florence, Italy and Galway, and Ireland. Tiffany received her Master of Arts in International Educational Development from Teachers College, Columbia University in February 2009. During this time she also interned with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Peace Women Project at the UN, and with the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in New Haven, Connecticut.



“They are Afraid!”

08 Jun

Let’s try a little experiment…

Imagine a popular reporter hosts a weekly news program on social issues in American society.  She talks about such topics as homosexuality, government corruption, and the exercise of free speech in the US, to name a few. Now imagine that a national newspaper with close ties to the US government branded that same reporter a SPY and declared that, by doing her job, she “brought it upon herself to have a short life.”

How would Americans react? My guess (and you should know that I have been labeled an idealist by some) would be public outrage, more than likely accompanied by a media firestorm.  I imagine that civil rights activists and journalists across the country would take a public stand in support of freedom of expression. After all, it is a right considered by many to be the foundation of a free and democratic society.

Well, here in Pristina, I don’t need to rely on my imagination to know how this situation would play out in Kosovo.

Much like the reporter in my scenario, journalist Jeta Xharra is the host of Jeta ne Kosove (“Life in Kosovo”), a popular current affairs show broadcasted throughout Kosovo and produced by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) (http://www.birn.eu.com/).

Jeta Xharra, host of "Life in Kosovo"

On May 31, 2009, the show featured a segment on government advertising, which is when the government uses public money to disseminate information about governmental programs, and how the practice is being used to influence media coverage. Almost as if to prove the point, Infopress newspaper, which is said to receive a significant amount of its funding through government advertising, launched an aggressive and sustained campaign against BIRN and Jeta Xharra in particular. Articles published by the paper included statements accusing Jeta Xharra of being an agent of the Serbian security forces and a spy for Belgrade. Her life has even been threatened. (The quote above was actually made in reference to Jeta Xharra and published in print).

To view the “offending” segment of the show for yourself, watch the short video below (with English subtitles).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPAgIJOnFeA

And how did Kosovar society react, you ask?

A group of nine NGOs in Kosovo, including my host, the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN) (http://www.womensnetwork.org/), drafted a public letter in defense of free speech. They wrote, in part, “The increasingly common practice of Infopress asserting that particular individuals are ‘Serb spies’ is becoming a disturbing issue. We, as citizens, are weary of flying accusations that certain people are ‘traitors.’ This practice, used by people who hold certain positions of power, which they use to label those who disagree with them as ‘traitors’ or ‘Serb spies’, has existed since the 1990s. We know that such labeling is used because the responsible persons cannot ably defend their position through sound arguments.”

They continued, “The media has a right to report with facts on stories, and Jeta ne Kosova (“Life in Kosovo”) together with BIRN have been striving to disclose facts about important stories affecting our lives and in accordance with professional journalistic standards. They are daring to speak out about issues for which many citizens fear to speak openly, due to the same sorts of threats that persons in positions of power made.”

Dozens of individual citizens, some of whom are employed by NGOs and international agencies that refused to endorse the letter, also signed in support of freedom of expression in Kosovo. Yet, when the letter was published in its entirety, fear set in. Many did not expect their names to be made public and expressed worries that their livelihoods would be negatively affected.

In short, they are afraid of the government. And when members of civil society are afraid of their government, that can hardly bode well for democratization.

So, is this the end of the story? Will civil society in Kosovo be silenced?

I don’t think so.

Posted By Tiffany Ommundsen

Posted Jun 8th, 2009

2 Comments

  • Hana Marku

    June 9, 2009

     

    I’ve been reading about this since yesterday. I’m disturbed by how much of a spin Sami Lushtaku’s interview and Rizah Hajdari’s opinion piece have been given.

    Sami Lushtaku made the first mistake by stating she was a spy in an interview, no matter how facetiously. If you read the entire interview, he says that the way in which she produced the episode in question was similar to the way in which Serbian television stations used to make documentaries about Kosova. He didn’t literally mean that she was an employee of UDB.

    The “death threat” article written by Rizah Hajdari does not read AT ALL like a threat against Jeta Xharra the person, it is a critique on her professionalism (and has some very valid points).

    The very last sentence is the sentence that has been pounced on by Xharra. It reads in Albanian : “Jeta ia bëri vetes që të mos ketë jetë të gjatë.”

    Jeta means both “life” and the name “Jeta” in Albanian. It has been translated for Western media as “Jeta has brought it upon herself to have a short life”, when the true meaning of the sentence is “Jeta ne Kosove (Life in Kosova) has brought it upon itself to have a short life”.

    Jeta Xharra’s response to these negative articles has been very immature and unproportional.Rizah Hajdari wrote an opinion piece, he’s not a staff writer representing Infopress’s views. Sami Lushtaku can say whatever he wants in an interview. It’s an illogical jump to say that her freedom of expression has been impinged, or that her person has been threatened. It’s also illogical to contact human rights bodies and NGOs to deal with something that should be left up to the IMC and/or the Kosova Journalists Association.

    BIRN’s website has a pdf file of the alleged articles, translated in English. Riza Hajdari’s article has not been included (which is strange, since that is the article on which she based her “death threat” accusation). I would read them.

  • Hana Marku

    December 12, 2014

     

    I came across this again after nearly five years, and I can’t believe how WRONG and ill-informed I was. When I visited Kosovo in 2010, I mentioned this case in casual conversation, and heard about the intimidation and threats received first-hand by Jeta and people in her staff. Totally ashamed at what I wrote back in 2009. I hope BIRN Kosovo never stops doing the work they do to hold people like Sami Lushtaku responsible for their actions.

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