Civility by Decree: Continental Divide

Shkelzen Maliqi is a chain-smoking Albanian intellectual with a salt-and-pepper beard who writes occasionally for local newspapers, works for the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute in Pristina, and has agreed to serve on the Media Policy Board. “We need a code of conduct for the press,” says Maliqi, arguing that Kosovo should adopt “a European and not an American approach to this matter.”
European press freedom advocates, used to a relatively high degree of official press regulation, have not opposed the OSCE initiative. But U.S. media watchdogs have, arguing that the OSCE’s action sets a dangerous precedent, not just for Kosovo but for the entire world. “The best way to combat hate speech is not to ban it,” read a New York Times editorial last month, “but to ensure that Kosovo’s citizens have access to alternative views.”

The OSCE already polices media hate speech in Bosnia, and many OSCE officials in Pristina were transferred from similar jobs in Sarajevo. U.S. advocates worry that if international organizations are allowed to censor media in the Balkans, it will be easier for them to justify censorship everywhere else. “What they are setting up establishes a precedent for continuing restriction of the press. These structures will last long after the fighting is over,” says Marilyn Greene of the Reston, Virginia-based World Press Freedom Committee. [The Committee to Protect Journalists partners with the World Press Freedom Committee in many press freedom efforts, and joins it in opposition to media regulation in Kosovo – ed.]

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Part 2: View from Kosovo / Part 3: Strange Bedfellows / Part 4: Comparing Rwanda