Professionals with real knowledge of topics are increasingly absent from public debate in the Kosovo media, where the hunger for ‘infotainment’ encourages vulgar populism, half-truths and disinformation.
On nine main TV channels in the country, the evening is reserved for political debates. During the week, 30 political debates are broadcast in which the protagonists are political analysts, and sometimes politicians.
In most cases, they are the same people talking about any topic. From the daily political developments, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the violence of nurses against an elderly woman to problems in the electricity supply.
The frequency of political debates has caused a decline in quality and in the criteria for selecting guests. A small country, such as Kosovo, cannot afford to produce quality debates on so many topics and offer the needed number of people to fill the rooms to debate every night.
To satisfy this need, the opportunity is often given to people who do not possess the expertise or even basic knowledge on the topic of the debate. In the absence of arguments and facts to use in these debates, many do not hesitate to libel anyone who has a different opinion.
Instead of the principle of political impartiality, slogans of political parties are spread and openly supported. Accusations of treason are made without any supportive evidence, insults are thrown, and there is little to no respect for the panelists at the table. There have even been cases where threats or situations escalated into physical fights.
Many political debates have been transformed into programs of the “infotainment” type, a combination of entertainment and information. These programs provide general information on the topic they cover and are not intended to provide substantive information of any value.
The lack of responsibility towards the public and the consequences they cause for society is not only the responsibility of the media. Politicians and decision-makers are also producers and instigators of far-right rhetoric.
Inciting inter-ethnic tensions is the most straightforward tactic that gives the fastest result to divert people’s attention from the daily problems and failures of the government.
A populist statement in the dialogue process for the normalisation of relations with Serbia, or action in the municipalities in the north of the country that are dominated by members of the Serbian community, can get the public’s attention for weeks.
The highest state officials do not hesitate to incite citizens against the European Union and the United States whenever they do not like any statement of their officials. The irresponsibility is so great that they endanger Kosovo’s external relations with its allies just to maintain their internal power.
Beyond political calculations, such statements denigrate and multiply further in the social networks that have also decreased citizens’ trust in the EU and the US.
In addition to the government, there is no significant difference in the Parliament, either. Members of the assembly, as elected representatives of the people, use sexist language and expose members of the LGBTI+ community to violence.
When the Draft Civil Code, which regulates, among others, the issue of same-sex marriages, was brought to parliament for adoption, the MPs who opposed the Code did so with the aim of “protecting public morals”, as they deemed marriages within the same sex as immoral and degenerate.
The damage done by such language and rhetoric is more significant outside the forums in which they take place.
Such a culture of debate is being promoted in society. Half-true information is quickly distributed on online portals in the form of news, as well as on social networks, reaching a wide audience.
Societal categories most vulnerable to disinformation have a harder time distinguishing between fact and speculation. In an opinion poll conducted last year, skewed and false narratives related to politics were believed by as many as one-third of Kosovo’s population. Influenced by the rhetoric used, they can be encouraged to undertake harmful social actions, increase inter-ethnic tensions, discriminate against marginalised groups and consequently increase the extreme right in the country.
If society’s passion for political debates were based on facts, creative solutions to many social problems would emerge. Now, people who can genuinely contribute to a specific topic are discouraged from engaging in debates in both traditional and online media, as their voices cannot be heard over the high level of noise produced in the studio or their reach in social networks.
People who have a professional background and are willing to contribute to the public good may be discouraged from doing so by the harshness of everyday politics. The degradation of public debate goes to low levels, and some people do not even spare hate speech and serve disinformation for the purpose of political gain. This inhibits professional people from participating in both political debates and accepting public positions.
Albert Krasniqi is Director of Program’s at Democracy Plus. He has more than 15 years of experience in local and international organisations working in the field of good governance and democratisation. He has studied at the faculty of Philosophy at the University of Prishtina.