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Serbian Language Television Network Launches in Kosovo

Tensions between ethnic group and nationalities in the Balkans existed long before the conflict in the 1990s; since then, the relationship between Serbs and Kosovars has not markedly abated. An estimated 70,000 registered Serbian refugees fled Kosovo during the conflict leaving those that remained the largest minority in Kosovo, at only 7% of the total population. Those who remain are largely concentrated in the north near the border with Serbia and live in the areas of Leposavic, Zvecan, and Zubin Potok. While there are Serbs scattered throughout the entire country, the next largest community resides in the far south in Strpce. The language barrier further isolates Serbs in Kosovo as all private national stations in Kosovo only broadcast in Albanian.

On February 19, Serbian television producers launched the TV Mreza network linking four Serbian language television stations from around Kosovo. Prior to this network launch, Serbs in Kosovo had largely to get their news and information from rebroadcasts of the Belgrade-based stations RTS, a public service station, and RTV B92, Serbia’s most popular independent television station. They received limited news about their individual communities from their local stations, but for the most part heard little to no information about the other ethnic Serbs throughout Kosovo.

"Networking of the Serbian language televisions will strengthen our television audience and thus our productivity. This is especially important for the Serbian community in Kosovo because through our network they will be better informed about local issues." - Nenad Radosavljevic, Executive Director, TV Mir.

Together the four stations involved in the TV Mreza network--TV Mir (Leposavic) and TV Most (Zvecan) in north Kosovo with TV Herc (Strpce) and TV Puls (Silovo) in the south--cover 80% of the Kosovo ’s Serbian population. Part of being in the network means that each of the stations has increased its production of local news and cover issues of concern to their communities such as education, decentralization, infrastructure problems, politics, youth, and more. With a hub based in Calgavica just outside of Kosovo’s capital Pristina, these stations’ viewers will finally be able to receive information from all the Serbian communities around Kosovo and news about Kosovo from Kosovo itself rather than relying on the Belgrade-centric news they receive through rebroadcasts from RTS and B92.

The network uses a virtual private network (VPN), built by Kosovo internet service provider Kujtesa, and Streambox technology to connect with each other to exchange both live and recorded videos. Through the network, the stations will be able to do more than provide information for their viewers: Because of the added appeal each station now has, they will gain more viewers, especially among the Serbian communities, and become more attractive to both national and international advertisers. Placing ad campaigns with a stand alone local television station will not gain an advertiser much business; however, being able place the same campaign on a network opens up a much larger audience without the advertiser having to put forward anymore work.

“Our main competitors are the Belgrade television stations whose budgets are many times higher than ours. With the IREX equipment, we will be able to exchange all program content and produce higher quality and more competitive programming. Also as a TV network we will be more interesting for advertisers; which is most important for our survival.” - Bojan Mladenovic, Executive Director, TV Herc

USAID Mission Director in Kosovo Patricia Rader and IREX/Kosovo Chief of Party Andrew Clayton were on hand to help formally launched the new network. Through the Strengthening Independent Minority Media (SIMM) program, USAID and IREX have provided training and funding for production and equipment to help make the network possible.

As the stations have been producing programs since fall of 2008 in anticipation of the network connection, they were excited to make TV Mreza official. Zvonko Milaninovic, the executive director of TV Most said "This is an important project by USAID, not just for the media in the Serbian language, but for the Serbian community in general. USAID and IREX have made it possible for us to report comprehensively and quickly from all over Kosovo. A special advantage is the hub-service units in Caglavica, which will help us allow access to Kosovo and international institutions."

At the launch, Andrew Clayton summed up the dual purpose of the network. “Good quality local news matters everywhere. That is why viewers tune in to local stations. This network will increase the quantity and quality of news and feature programs offered by the four TV Mreza stations. We expect this will build their audiences, make them more attractive to advertisers and so more profitable as businesses”.