In-depth | Media

Violations of journalists’ rights in abundance

By - 23.10.2018

Low wages, absence of contracts and unpaid internships in Kosovo media.

During his second year of studying for a degree in journalism, in addition to the usual concerns of undergraduate students, Dardan Hoti was also thinking about future employment, intent on finding himself a job. In November 2010, the University of Prishtina (UP) student got in touch with a daily newspaper, which is no longer in operation, seeking an opportunity to challenge himself in journalism.

At the time a 21-year-old, Hoti secured an unpaid internship in the media organization.

He says that at that time he “worked for more than nine hours a day” to prove to his employers that he was an able journalist with professional ambitions. His work was rewarded after one month, when he was employed as a regular employee at the newspaper.

Hoti says he was offered a monthly salary of just 150 euros, but no employment contract. After three months, he says he started to receive an extra 10 euros, and during the course of the following nine months that he worked there, the highest wage wage he received was 250 euros.

In 2012, Hoti started working for the online portal Indeksonline, where he says he received the same wage and worked without an employment contract, but this time around he faced an additional problem — the money, he says, was given to him in cash, not through the bank.  

He worked at his next job, at Gazeta Tribuna, for 15 months and had a monthly salary of 300 euros, but he says the payment was often late. K2.0 contacted both Indeksonline and Gazeta Tribuna to ask about their past employment practices, but received no response.

In his eight years of working as a journalist, Dardan Hoti has changed his job five times, often because of low or irregular salaries. Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

The problems that Hoti faced throughout his career — low wages, delays in payments, lack of contracts and lack of respect for contracts — are only a few of the violations with which most aspiring and professional journalists are faced in Kosovo.  

For Hoti, who is now engaged as a producer at television channel RTV Dukagjini, past experience has often made him question his profession.

“When you criticize a politician or businessman who violates labor rights, but you simultaneously face the same situation, what does this mean?” he says.

He recalls an interview for an article in which he wrote about the extent to which a business owner respected labor rights. The owner replied: “Do you yourself have an employment contract?”

Overused practices and almost inexistent contracts

For most journalists, mistreatment and lack of respect for basic labor rights characterize their careers from their first engagement, which is often through internships. This happens despite regulation through laws and agreements.

For example, according to the 2010 Law on Labour, an internship can last for up to one year for persons who have undergraduate and graduate qualifications, whereas for persons who have only finished high school, it can last for up to six months. Interns must have contracts and if unpaid must be included in the list of unpaid employees.

Interns also have the right to access other benefits, such as work insurance and proper working conditions. The 2014 General Collective Agreement of Kosovo foresees that the end of an internship be followed by an “internship examination,” which includes “testing professional knowledge in the field of work for which the intern has been trained.”

But such aspects of laws and agreements are rarely implemented in practice. Twenty-five-year old Arta* from Vushtrri, who started working as an intern at an online portal in 2015, says she was not offered an employment contract after working at the media organization for five months. She says she did not go through any of the steps foreseen by law, her work was not monitored by a mentor and she received no document certifying that she had worked as an intern in total for 11 months over two separate periods.

Many professionals of the field believe that these aspects of the law — such as the engagement of interns without paid compensation and other rights related to employment contracts — only end up creating the space for media owners and employers to misuse interns and young journalists.

“The law enables them to keep people for up to six months, and in the end they say, ‘We don’t like you,’ and they don’t give any justification about why they are not being employed as regular employees,” says Zekirja Shabani, who has 14 years of experience working as a journalist and has recently begun working as an editor at online portal Gazeta Infokus. “If they were not capable of doing their jobs after three months of being engaged there, then why keep them for longer?”

From their first engagement as interns, journalists face a lack of respect for their labor rights. Different violations characterize their careers even when they move on to regular employment. Photo from archive: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

In 2017, Linda Gjokaj, who graduated from the Department of Journalism at the University of Prishtina and worked as an intern at three different media organizations, decided to establish the Pay My Internship initiative, which aims to advocate for more qualitative internships in Kosovo.

According to Gjokaj, who previously interned at K2.0, the media usually take on more interns in the summertime, when many journalists are on annual leave, and during busier periods such as during elections.

“Up until now we haven’t had any research, reports or initiatives that deal with internships,” Gjokaj says. Along with 15 colleagues she is now gathering data from interviews with students, including journalism students, about their experiences in the private and public sectors, aiming to publish a report by the end of the year.

For Petrit Çollaku, the head of the Kosovo Journalists’ Association (AGK), the large number of journalism students graduating every year from the University of Prishtina and private universities such as AAB, UBT and Universum, also contribute to this situation. For example, since the 2014/15 academic year, more than 300 undergraduate students and about 60 masters students have graduated from the Journalism Department of UP’s Philological Faculty.

“As such, they [employers] feel that they can say ‘either accept it or leave,’ because they know there are others who are willing to work in these conditions,” says Çollaku, who in addition to his engagement at AGK also has 11 years of experience working as a journalist and editor.

Such disregard for labor rights characterizes journalists’ careers even when they progress to regular employment, despite the experience and skills that they obtain throughout the years. For example, the absence of employment contracts is very widespread in the private sector in general, including the field of journalism.

According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics (ASK), in 2017, 33 percent of young people aged between 15 and 24 worked without contracts. From those that had employment contracts, 20 percent had permanent contracts — which according to law must be issued for employees who have had successive contracts for 10 years — whereas 79 percent had temporary contracts.   

In 2016, the Labor Inspectorate — which functions within the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and serves to monitor and implement legislation related to occupational health, safety and employment relations — specifically inspected 34 media organizations in Prishtina alone. Of the 694 employees that it observed in working environments, 21 had no employment contracts.  

The Inspectorate issued only three fines. According to head inspector Basri Ibrahimi, the institution that he runs “does not aim to punish businesses, but rather to give them time to make improvements based on our remarks.”

Head inspector Basri Ibrahimi believes that media businesses use specific contracts because through them they can fire journalists whenever they please. Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Meanwhile, they found that around 153 employees had contracts for specific work, which enables them to work for up to 120 days within one year. However, according to Ibrahimi, there were cases where journalists with specific contracts worked for more than the permitted four months.   

“That is not an [appropriate] employment relationship,” Ibrahimi says. He believes that businesses use these types of contracts because “through them, they can fire journalists whenever they please, as well as pay them less.”    

Low and delayed wages put off journalists

Concerns and remarks regarding the difficult conditions in which journalists work are raised year after year, be it by journalists or people researching the general situation in the media sector. Various reports show that the financial instability of media, and the consequent lack of physical, professional and financial security, often pushes journalists to leave their profession and find jobs in other fields.

There is little precise or reliable data on the financial position of journalists due, in part, to the sporadic nature of contracts being issued. In December 2016, AGK published a report that focused on measuring media freedoms and the general security of journalists. From the 50 journalists and editors that were interviewed as part of the research, they found that the average salary for journalists was between 200 and 500 euros per month.

The wages of 50 journalists and editors interviewed by AGK in a 2016 report.

These sums are a bit higher than the minimum and average wages in Kosovo respectively, with the legal minimum wage for persons under 35 set at 130 euros per month and for persons over aged 35 at 170 euros per month, and the average wage — according to ASK — at 363 euros per month.

However, journalists themselves, particularly those working at Kosovo’s myriad of online portals, have suggested that such figures are far from their reality.

AGK’s Çollaku also believes that the data they acquired through their study are not fully representative of the reality of the situation, because the average wage is influenced by reported wages of editors from 600 to 900 euros per month, as well as the higher reported wages of journalists who work at the public broadcasting service, Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK). Çollaku says that according to wider anecdotal evidence, the wages are closer to the minimum of around 200 euros per month.

Journalist Besiana Krasniqi who has 12 years of experience working in different media in Kosovo says she has seen little improvement in this regard. She started to work as an intern at Radio Televizioni 21 in 2006 and after being engaged for two months signed her first contract, saying it was worth 200 euros per month.

Motivated to work in this profession, she worked there for 11 years. Like most of her colleagues who were in a similar situation, she was supported financially by her family, so that she could cover living expenses such as rent and studying costs.

“At that age, when you love the profession and think that you can achieve something, you don’t really give much importance to the wage,” Krasniqi says. But she is concerned by the fact that these days, 12 years later, young journalists are still facing similar experiences.

Low wages are only a part of the problem. In many cases they are accompanied by continuous delays in payments.

Hoti also recalls similar experiences of scraping by on low wages. He says that during the first five years of his career, he found it difficult to pay rent and to cover basic living expenses.  

“I had to borrow money to pay debts,” he says. “I don’t recall any period in which I’ve worked only one job.”

Low wages are only a part of the problem. In many cases they are accompanied by continuous delays in payments. These issues have just about become inherent for journalists. Journalists also continuously raise the issue of their wages being paid in parts, bit by bit throughout the month.

One of the first of such cases to make waves in the public came in December 2014, when Zekirja Shabani of Gazeta Infokus, who at the time was economics editor at Gazeta Tribuna, publicly expressed his criticism of the practice of delayed wages in the medium he worked in, but also in the sector in general. Later on, Shabani — who at the time was also head of AGK — claimed that the owner physically attacked him and terminated his employment contract as a result of his public statement.

With 14 years of experience in journalism, Zekirja Shabani believes that working conditions for journalists have not improved over the years. Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

In December 2014, Shabani reported the case to the police. “Since then, I haven’t been called by the prosecution, the police or the court,” he says.

Kosovo Police told K2.0 that the case was classified as a ‘threat’ and was forwarded to the Basic Prosecution on December 12 that year. The Basic Prosecution told K2.0 that they decided to drop the criminal charges in July 2017, although admitted that they had not informed Shabani about the development.

Despite this, Shabani says he does not regret raising his voice. “How can you employ someone when you know that they are not being paid?” he says. K2.0 contacted Tribuna Channel owner Sejdi Demiri, but he did not respond to emails or phone calls.

Recently, workers within the media sector have upped the ante by being more critical of violations of labor rights and related practices, including not only delays in the payment of wages, but also the right to annual or medical leave, compensation for working overtime and the obligation to pay employer contributions.

In the last couple of years, the Tribuna Channel case has dominated in this regard. The case started in November 2016, when six cameramen who worked for this TV channel went to AGK with complaints that they had not been paid their last three wages. The Journalists’ Association forwarded their complaints to the Labor Inspectorate, which on November 16 found that Tribuna Channel had committed these violations and ordered it to fulfil its obligations toward its employees.

Tribuna Channel filed its own complaint in regard to the Labor Inspectorate decision, however, on January 27, 2017, the Inspectorate reiterated its decision.

Nevertheless, the media continued to disregard the decision, which led to the six cameramen asking the decision to be enforced by the Basic Court of Prishtina, where they were represented by the lawyer Naim Spahiu. The court upheld the request, but Tribuna Channel has taken the case to the Appeals Court, which according to Spahiu is expected to reach a verdict by the end of the year.    

Further claims about the Tribuna Channel owing money to journalists were made in July, when online media Insajderi reported that dozens of journalists, newsreaders, editors and producers had quit their jobs as a result of the media delaying or failing to make payments for wages and pension trust funds.  

Despite these examples in which journalists have started to raise their voices to address violations in the workplace, they appear to be in the minority. A 2017 AGK report showed that irregularities and violations are pushing an increasing number of journalists to quit the profession.

As a journalist and head of AGK, Petrit Çollaku says that the only way to bring about improvements in the field is by journalists raising their voice about the injustices that they endure. Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

For Çollaku, who through AGK has monitored annual trends, financial conditions are “explicitly” forcing journalists to leave the profession and to instead work in public institutions, NGOs and private businesses.

But while the fear of being sacked forces many journalists to evade confrontation with the unjust labor system, Çollaku says that the only way to initiate substantial changes in this regard is by having as many journalists as possible raising their voices.

“We must encourage journalists to report the issues that they face, and we as intermediators, together with the Labor Inspectorate, must analyze the situation,” he says. “It is for the good of the community.”

*Editorial note: Arta is a pseudonym as this journalist requested for her real name not to be used for fear that doing so with impede her ability to find a job in future.

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

 

This article was supported by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. The opinions and sentiments expressed are those of  Kosovo 2.0 and do not necessarily reflect those of the OSCE.

Comments

0
Comment

Comment