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Dita in the Dock Again

A Kosovo newspaper is refusing to be reined in by curbs on press freedom in the province
By Peter van Agtmael

International officials in Kosovo are considering their response to an Albanian paper's controverisal naming of suspected Serb war criminals.


The paper, Dita, provoked a political storm several months ago after a UN Serb it accused of war crimes was abducted and murdered. The UN and the OSCE temporarily closed down the title and introduced media regulations - which some have condemned as an infringement of free speech.


This week the paper published the photographs of 15 Serbs it alleged committed crimes against Albanians during last year's war. UNMIK and the OSCE have yet to issue an official response.


In the earlier incident, the paper accused UN translator Petar Topoljski of beating and evicting Albanians while a member of a Serb paramilitary group. Soon after he went missing. His battered body was found on a roadside near the capital Pristina.


UNMIK chief Bernard Kouchner ordered a full investigation and shut down the paper's offices for eight days.


In addition, the OSCE and UNMIK drafted two temporary codes of conduct for newspapers and broadcasters. Under the regulations, media risk punishment for endangering someone's life. "The media is barred from publishing details of an individual which would pose a threat to that person's life," a joint statement said.


Defending the move, OSCE ambassador to Kosovo Dan Everts said, "Individuals are being basically condemned, and condemned to death" as a result of Dita's publications.


Dita was apparently undeterred by the restrictions. It published the names of two more Serb suspects, an act condemned by the OSCE as a clear breach of media regulations.


The Dita case has provoked a heated debate over the limits of free speech in the province.


The Kosovo Journalists' Association called the temporary closure of the paper "an arbitrary act which endangers press freedom and could set a dangerous precedent for the local media."


Article 19 described the media regulations as unacceptable. "It is a gift to any government seeking for examples to use when reining in the media," the organisation said. "We dispute the wisdom of introducing such a wide-reaching measure to deal with a small number of specific cases of actual incitement to violence."


Index on Censorship feels the Kosovo daily had been wrong to publish its allegations. Index News editor Michael Griffin said, "Dita's publication in this particular instance went far beyond the duties of a newspaper."


Peter van Agtmael is an IWPR intern.

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