US State Department’s annual human rights reports on Balkans

The latest Human Rights Reports prepared by the US State Department said that the political influence and direct or indirect control over the media, as well as smear campaigns, threats and violence against journalists, have caused the media environment to deteriorate in most countries in the Balkans. Its report about Serbia observed: “Although independent media organizations continued to exist and express a wide range of views, press organizations and international monitors claimed government pressure on media was deepening.” It added: “There were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on a number of issues.” In Albania, misuse of the media by their owners is emphasised as a major issue. The section on Albania emphasises also threats by the country’s telecommunications authority to shut down websites, BIRN’s Albanian-language publication, and the defamation lawsuits filed by Judge Gjin Gjoni against BIRN Albania and newspaper journalists. Unlike other countries, the report says the media climate in North Macedonia has improved. “While outlets and reporting continued to be largely divided along political lines, the number of independent media voices actively expressing a variety of views without overt restriction increased,” it said. The State Department warned that Montenegrin authorities performed poorly in prosecuting organised crime-related killings, but in the last year it increased its prosecutions of homicide cases linked to organised crime. It also noted that NGOs pointed out that a number of police officers in Montenegro have been found responsible for violating the rules of their service, including cases of excessive use of force while on duty. In its section on Montenegro, the report also highlighted that “attacks directed at journalists continued to be a serious problem,” adding that that independent and pro-opposition media have complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. When it comes to Kosovo, the report listed attacks against Serbs among problems in the country. “In the first seven months of the year, there were more than 100 incidents involving thefts, break-ins, verbal harassment, and damage to the property of Kosovo Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church,” the report said. It also noted endemic corruption in the ranks of Kosovo’s government, and threats and attacks against journalists. The US Department of State has published yearly human rights reports since 1977 and they cover a wide range of issues, including freedom of the media and freedom of expression. Earlier this year, the NGO Freedom House downgraded Serbia’s status from Free to Partly Free, along with Hungary.