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The United Nations mission in Kosovo announced new media controls on 17 June, prompting criticism by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC). Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), has appointed a Media Commissioner with a wide range of powers to fine, close or suspend publications.

New regulations forbid the publication of personal details -- even naming persons -- if such details are considered to pose a threat to life. The print regulations will continue until "there is effective self-regulation of the print media," according to a press release issued by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe-Mission in Kosovo (OMIK).

"This is a dangerous and disturbing precedent for international media controls in post-conflict regions," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) concurs, adding that the measures "set major negative examples that can be exploited by authoritarian regimes in the Balkans and elsewhere to justify similarly structured arrangements of their own."

According to IFJ, "the move follows concern that incitement to intolerance and hate-speech in local newspapers is leading to violence and comes after Kouchner intervened to suspend the newspaper Dita, that identified Petar Topoljski, a Serbian translator for the UN, who was murdered after the paper accused him of activities against Kosovar Albanians."

"We will never defend incitement to murder, and rules against information that puts individuals at risk are understandable, but we cannot see how this regulation is justified," said White. "It flies in the face of a Media Charter adopted only a few days ago by the international community andgovernments of the region, which sets out principles for professionalism and democracy in media."

The IFJ says that the regulations do not ensure an independent appeals procedure and introduce the notion of legally-enforceable codes of conduct for journalists. "This cuts the ground from under the Association of Kosova Journalists, which is trying to establish a system of self-regulation."

The WPFC maintains that "if the UN administration in Kosovo is truly interested in instituting the rule of law, it should be concentrating on rebuilding the court system, with independent judges, to enforce reasonable laws legislated in a legitimate process -- not by the unilateral fiat of a UN viceroy instituting an international censorship in a territory under UN administration."

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