RFE/RL correspondent reports from Kosovo on efforts to rebuild media in the province. He talks with those involved in efforts to restart newspapers and broadcast media.
Pristina, 5 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Ethnic Albanian journalists are scrambling to revive devastated newspapers and broadcasting facilities in Pristina. But for now, the absence of locally-produced news in Kosovo's provincial capital is almost complete.
Only two Albanian-language newspapers are appearing in Kosovo on a daily basis -- Koha Ditore and Kosova Sot. But the Pristina offices of both newspapers were ransacked by Serb forces after NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia in March. The staff of Koha Ditore fled to Macedonia, and journalists are publishing from the Macedonian town of Tetovo. Kosova Sot is being printed in Tirana.
Operational costs for both newspapers are being paid with grants from Western governments. Neither journal carries any advertisements for now, and both are being given away for free in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania.
But the latest editions of both newspapers are filled mostly with reports that have been translated from Western news agencies, or from information that has been found on the Internet. That means ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are receiving little printed news from reporters that are covering the evolving political scene in the province.
The broadcasting equipment of state-owned Radio-Television Pristina was also looted and destroyed as Serb military forces withdrew from the provincial capital last month. About 100 ethnic Albanian journalists marched on the Radio Pristina building earlier this week to demand entry for the first time since 1990, when they had been sacked from the state broadcasting company under a Belgrade decree.
The journalists attempted to restart programming in the Albanian language, but a test transmission was cut short after less than three hours when explosives were discovered inside some equipment. A bomb was also found in a car outside the building.
Martin Cuni, an ethnic Albanian who is coordinating the reconstruction of Radio-TV Pristina, described the conditions they found inside both the radio and the television headquarters:
"We were inside our offices. It was the request of all employees to go inside and to see the situation. What we saw was catastrophic. All of the existing equipment was destroyed. But we can salvage some things, and our engineers can repair some of the studios so that we can broadcast our radio programs. As for TV Pristina, it is more difficult to say when we will be able to start broadcasting. There is a lot of missing equipment. The TV Pristina building is the worst situation because the remaining equipment can not be salvaged. [Serb journalists] gathered together some equipment in one place, in a private building, and they were broadcasting Serbian propaganda programs, both radio and television, from that place. Now they are still broadcasting state regime propaganda on the radio from the [state-owned] press building. Quite frankly, an estimation of the damages would be millions of dollars."
Our correspondent was turned back from entering the TV Pristina headquarters this week by British KFOR guards. But one of the soldiers, Alastair Rogers of Britain's First Battalion Parachute Regiment, confirmed Cuni's description of the destruction inside.
"Most of the transmission equipment was looted as the Serbs left. And so, as a result of that, it will be some time before there is any form of transmission of either radio or television programs from here. There is an awful lot of equipment [missing] and there are a lot of facilities missing."
The demand for printed news in the Albanian language is apparent to employees of Koha Ditore who venture onto the streets of Pristina with a stack of newspapers to give away. Yesterday, our correspondent watched a Koha Ditore carrier surrounded by a large crowd fighting to get copies of the latest edition.
Inside Koha Ditore's Pristina headquarters, the desks are empty of equipment or the stacks of papers that normally clutter a busy newsroom. The half-burned hulk of an expensive laser printer sits on one desk, and a large pile of smashed computer screens fills a room nearby. Luan Dobroshi, director of Koha Ditore's parent company, explains that Serb police stormed the building shortly after the NATO airstrikes began. A security guard for the newspaper was killed and its printing presses were burned.
A skeleton staff is now at the office, preparing for the time when journalists and technicians will return from Macedonia. Dobroshi says he hopes that will be by the end of July.
"Western countries are financing us because there is a need for information to reach the people of Kosovo without obstacles. We will do our best to return our news desk here to Pristina, and to start publishing under the rules of a market economy. We will try to publish normally, as we did before the war, and then it will be distributed and sold like every other newspaper."
Koha Ditore's publisher is Veton Surroi, a prominent ethnic Albanian businessman who advocates a separate Kosovo state. Surroi was the only politically independent Albanian delegate to sign the Rambouillet peace accords.
Koha Ditore has consistently criticized the policies of Ibrahim Rugova's Liberal Democratic Party (LDK), which heads the democratically elected ethnic Albanian government for Kosovo. Belgrade refuses to recognize that government, which may explain why Serb officials granted a publishing license to Koha Ditore and allowed it to publish as long as it did.
Meanwhile, the editors of Kosovo's oldest Albanian language newspaper, Rilindja, say they hope to restart daily publication from Pristina within ten days.
Rilindja was banned in 1990 after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic withdrew Kosovo's autonomous status, but it continued to be printed during the 1990's without a license, under the name Bujku. Authorities in Belgrade silenced the newspaper again last December, but its editors boldly restarted publication in February without Belgrade's approval, using the old name Rilindja.
Although Rilindja was silenced once again by Serb authorities shortly before the NATO bombing campaign began, its Pristina printing presses have survived -- perhaps due to the fact that those facilities were also used to print the daily Serb state-run newspaper Jedinstvo. Rilindja published an eight-page special edition after British troops arrived in Pristina last month and much of the staff is back in Kosovo now. They are busy gathering information for the time when the newspaper restarts its daily print run.