Illustration: Jete Dobranja for Prishtina Insight.

Kosovo’s prime time TV debates are becoming a farce

The journalists, analysts and political representatives on prime time TV shows are failing to address the pressing issues facing Kosovo ahead of February’s elections, and instead are turning public debate into a circus.

In the run up to the parliamentary election on February 14, the prime time slot on Kosovo’s six major television channels is almost completely dedicated to what are described as ‘political debates.’

However, even in a time when the country is facing a serious public health crisis in the shape of COVID-19 and an economic recession with soaring rates of unemployment, the focus of these debates is rarely on pressing public interest issues.

On very rare occasions, televised debates centre around political parties’ programmes and electoral promises, but only superficially, while concrete policies, facts, and statistics continue to be almost completely absent.

In place of informed debate is a circus. For more than two hours every night, five times a week, panels consisting nearly entirely of men swear, insult each other’s mothers, accuse each other of being charlatans and idiots, and occasionally physically assault one another, all live on TV.

It is a form of debate that plays only into the hands of politicians. It is far easier for representatives of political parties to enter into slanging matches that later go viral than into sincere discussions that hold them accountable for their policies and pledges.

With less than three weeks to go until the elections, the media should be equipping citizens with accurate, impartial and credible information, instead of trying to create entertainment through these artificial arguments.

Worse still, this form of debate is creating a media landscape where clickbait is more important than fact, and views are more significant than truth. Anchors on the debate shows often proudly read out their viewing figures during the show.

The topics that are subject to debate are rarely in the public interest, and regularly dictated by political manipulation of the media. Any sensationalist, and often contrived, argument between politicians that takes place during the day is then further debated in the evening, while issues from the past are also endlessly rehashed for a new audience. 

This recycling of debates from the past in particular neglects a huge part of society – the youth. Nearly 50 percent of Kosovo’s population is under 25, and their priorities are not repeatedly going over issues from the 1990s, such as the ideological values of the Kosovo Liberation Army or the legacy of Ibrahim Rugova and the nature of ‘Rugovism.’

Another major issue is the composition of the panels, which are nearly always completely male-dominated. An analysis by S’Bunker of public broadcaster RTK’s DEBAT show revealed that in 115 debates, 382 guests were men and only 22 were women, excluding the voices of half of the population.

This current culture of debate is reducing politics to the level of a reality TV show, and risks increasing political apathy among huge swathes of the population. It is also preventing scrutiny of policies that affect all of our lives.

Ultimately, there can be no progress in a society in which public debate is focussed on topics that are only of interest to the political class. When the priorities of the public are neglected by journalists and so-called political analysts, politicians are freed from a fundamental duty in their job, being held accountable and responsible for the decisions they make. 

Illustration: Jete Dobranja for Prishtina Insight.

The views expressed in the Opinion section are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect BIRN’s views.

Agron Demi is a Senior Researcher at the GAP Institute and a regular columnist for Prishtina Insight.

26 January 2021 - 15:44

Agron Demi

26/01/2021 - 15:44

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.