Radio Television of Kosovo, RTK. Photo: BIRN/Urim Krasniqi

Ruling Party Vetëvendosje Accused of ‘Capturing’ Public Broadcaster

The appointment of new RTK director who donated money to the ruling Vetëvendosje party has led to furious condemnation and claims that the government has betrayed promises to 'de-capture' the public broadcaster.

The board of public broadcaster Radio and Television Kosovo, RTK, has been criticised for approving the election of Rilind Gervalla as the new director of the Albanian-language channels RTK 1, 3 and 4. 

Gervalla has been working in RTK for 20 years and his last post was as foreign news editor.

This appointment has drawn stiff criticism from independent media watchdogs and the opposition who call it evidence of the “capture” of the broadcaster by the governing Vetëvendosje party.

BIRN found out that Gervalla was a donor to Vetëvendosje, according to the 2020 annual financial report the party submitted to the Central Elections Commission CEC. In the report, Gervalla’s name is seen, having donated multiple installments of 10 euros, making a total of 60 euros. 

Gervalla is also associated with Vetëvendosje through photos that BIRN has seen in the party offices together with other members of the party at a meeting of the General Council in 2020.

Photo courtesy of Vetevendosje.

This appointment has caused heated reactions among media watchdogs and opposition politicians as well.

“This partisan choice contradicts its [the government’s] commitment to depoliticise and de-capture the public broadcaster,” the Secretary General of the European Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutierrez, said on Tuesday.

“The European Federation of Journalists regrets this decision. The citizens of Kosovo deserve a free public television that is totally independent from political parties,” Gutierrez added.

“We regret the decision of the RTK board to elect Rilind Gervalla as director of television. Gervalla is an activist of the ruling party. His appointment destroys the efforts of the board, which had our full support, to depoliticise the public broadcaster,” the European Center for Press and Media Freedom, an NGO, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. 

Democratic League of Kosovo MP Doarsa Kica Xhelili called the appointment a sign of the “recapture” of the public media outlet.

“Unfortunately, the Board of RTK officially failed in its mission, selecting the donor of the ruling party as director of the television … I am very sorry that in the little thread of hope that we had in the few institutions that are not being crippled by nepotism and politicization, RTK is now included again,” Kica Xhelili wrote.

Democratic Party of Kosovo MP Ableard Tahiri, said that despite calls for non-politicization of the public broadcaster, RTK had been captured by the government. 

“Neither the social demands for transparency and meritocracy, nor the calls of international associations and civil society for non-politicization of the public broadcaster, stopped the thrust of the RTK capture project by the government of Albin Kurti. 

“The capture and subjugation of RTK under the government’s directive is a further step against free speech and freedom of the media,” Tahiri wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

The general director of RTK, Shkumbin Ahmetxhekaj, justified the appointment before the board, saying that they had sought clarification from Vetëvendosje on whether Gervalla had been part of the structures or leadership forums of the party in the last three years. 

Ahmetxhekaj said that Vetëvendosje had reported that in the period mentioned by RTK, Gervalla was not part of any leading structures.

“I asked the administration to send a request to the Vetëvendosje Movement to verify if Rilind has been a member of the governing bodies or forums of the LVV in the last three years. And the response of the LVV was that the person was not part of the LVV in the structures for the period mentioned by RTK,” Ahmetxhekaj said.

Photo courtesy of Kosovo health minister Arben Vitia.

According to the directive for the election of RTK’s senior management, the candidate must not have been a deputy, minister, senior official of central or local government, or a member of the governing forums of political subjects in the last three years.

BIRN tried to contact Gervalla, but  he said that so far he had not received any notification but that, after completing the process, he would respond. 

Later that day, Gërvalla himself reacted to reports on social media, calling them political fabrications. He also said that he will take legal action against inaccurate compilations, as he called them, made in his name. 

“After the public attacks these days, based on propaganda and fabrication, I am a little outraged, but more concerned about the extent to which communication channels today manage to broker certain interests without doing detailed research. For the sake of media correctness, I will have to take legal action over all the incorrect compilations done in my name,” Gërvalla wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. 

“After a marathon 23 years at Radio Television of Kosovo as a journalist, head of international news and news exchange in connection with RTK organizations and European public televisions, today after five consecutive competitions, I was elected Director of RTK Television,” he recalled. 

The General Director of RTK said that Gervalla has been part of RTK since its foundation, having held various positions within the public broadcaster.

 The job contest failed four times before Gervalla was appointed in the fifth round. Six candidates competed and four of them met the criteria for the interview. 

After the interview, Gërvalla was given the highest score by the commission.

BIRN has been monitoring the selection process of other key positions and found breaches in other key recruitments in the public broadcaster, including in the selection of RTK Director General in March last year and the position of deputy head of RTK in August. 

BIRN’s findings resulted in the RTK board annulling both processes and having to start all over again. 

*Perparim Isufi has contributed to this article

01/02/2023 - 15:56

01 February 2023 - 15:56

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.