The State and Media Conceal Media Finances
Understanding the sources of media funding in Kosovo proves to be an elusive task for the public. Some outlets keep this information private, while the country's institutions have disclosed financial data for only two media entities. In August, BIRN, in collaboration with the Global Media Register, initiated an investigation into the funding sources of the media landscape.
44 media outlets were chosen for investigation using data from MediaMetri, Google Analytics, and social media. This methodology was adopted due to the absence of official data on viewership, readership, ownership, and finances in Kosovo. Results will be published on the Media Ownership Monitor database.
At the outset of the investigation, media outlets were called upon to disclose financial information. Only three, namely "RTV21, Radio Romano Avazo, and Radio Club FM, responded to this request.
While the inquiry extended to public data, BIRN's research revealed that media organizations, with the exception of the public broadcaster, RTK, and two private channels, refrain from publishing their financial data on their websites.
The investigation reveals that even public institutions hide financial reports submitted by the media.
On the website of the Ministry of Finance, only the companies TV21 and EDU Invest, under which ATV operates, have publicly disclosed information. BIRN, through a request for access to public documents, sought data on 44 media outlets from the Government of Kosovo, but only received information on "KlanKosova sh.p.k".
The Ministry of Finance has not provided an official response explaining why financial reports for other media outlets were not submitted.
Media outlets report their revenues to the Kosovo Tax Administration, and from there, the information is forwarded to the Ministry of Finance. BIRN sought access to these reports from the Tax Administration, but the request was denied.
According to Valentina Bytyqi Sefa, the spokesperson of the Tax Administration of Kosovo, such information can only be provided if the taxpayer is released from confidentiality, as stipulated in Article 84 of the Law on Tax Administration and Procedures.
Media outlets in Kosovo are required to submit an annual financial report to the Independent Media Commission (IMC). The IMC, a constitutional body overseeing audiovisual and frequency-based media, requires licensed services to submit a report. This report should cover program and operational details in line with license conditions, along with a thorough financial report and other legally mandated information.
Quoting the law, Arsim Dreshaj, the media officer at the IMC, told BIRN that they cannot disclose sensitive commercial and financial information.
"Referring to Article 28 Reporting Requirements, where Point 4 specifies: 'The IMC will not disclose any person's sensitive commercial and financial information presented in the annual reports of licensees, except when the law requires otherwise.This provision outlines how the annual financial reports of licensees are to be managed,’" said Dreshaj.
Ardita Zejnullahu, the Executive Director of the Association of Broadcast Media in Kosovo (AMPEK), stressed the importance of media outlets disclosing their finances in order to be transparent and fulfill their mission. Moreover,, she contends that such disclosure should be legally mandated.
"While it would be beneficial for the media to make their financial information public for transparency, rectitude, and the inherent nature of their work in serving the public, there must also be a delicate balance between divulging 'sensitive financial information' and maintaining transparency. I believe this balance is secured and ensured by Article 28.4 of the IMC law," Zejnullahu remarked.
"I believe once media ownership and concentration are legally addressed, as repeatedly highlighted in the European Commission's report on Kosovo, along with identifying 'beneficiary owners,' there will be greater transparency. This will provide more information on political or business influence in the media," she added.
According to her, the situation is similar in other countries in the region, where financial reports are not disclosed.
"However, there is a way to access them, as is also the case in Kosovo. In Montenegro, for instance, financial reports are submitted only to the Tax Administration, not to the media regulator," she said.
Zejnullahu emphasizes another crucial issue: there has never been a media market study conducted in Kosovo. According to her, this is essential to understand the market's capacity and its potential for supporting the media.
"This is of utmost importance and should be undertaken by the regulator," she concluded.
The data from BIRN's investigation will be published in early December in the MOM database.