Kosovo government moves to close TV station, alarming journalists

PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s government on Friday suspended the license of the country’s biggest private television broadcaster over a registration error, alarming journalists who accused the ruling party of an open war against free media.

The issue began last month when the government said it identified problems with the registration certificate of TV station Klan Kosova. The station later said it had already fixed those problems, as requested.

Kosovo’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said on Friday: “In the registration documents … the municipalities of the Republic of Kosovo are presented as cities of Serbia, which constitutes a violation of our constitution.”

Klan Kosova was launched in 2009 and soon became Kosovo’s biggest private television station.

The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AGK) said on Friday it was “shocked” by the decision. It said the entire process from the start was politically motivated by the ruling party and the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

“This decision confirms an open and unprecedented war of this government against the media and it is a warning that other media will also be the target,” the group said.

A joint statement from the embassies of the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Britain, known as the Quint group, and the EU office in Pristina said they were concerned about the government’s suspension of Klan Kosova’s business license.

“We are especially concerned that revoking Klan Kosova’s business license is a disproportionate decision that will have repercussions on media plurality in Kosovo,” the Quint group said in a statement.

It was the first instance of the government closing a media entity since the Balkan country declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Klan Kosova said it will appeal the verdict in court.

Kurti’s government has lately clashed with Western countries which have been Kosovo’s biggest political and financial supporters.

The United States and the European Union have introduced sanctions on Kosovo over Kurti’s handling of ethnic tensions with minority Serbs in the northern part of the country.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Matthew Lewis)