Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks for KosovaPress 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner

Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks for KosovaPress 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner, February 7, 2024

Government officials, Kosova Press President Krasniqi, friends from the media, distinguished guests:

I want to join my fellow speakers in extending a warm welcome to Kosovo for those of you representing the International Conference of News Agencies of Europe.

Your visit to Kosovo – in particular, in convening under the theme “Borders of Freedom of Speech” – holds tremendous significance as we gather to celebrate and recognize the incredible progress Kosovo’s media sector has made over the past 25 years.

I want to emphasize something I’ve said many times before: the United States sees a free, vibrant press as integral to democratic society.

In 1787, one of the United States’ founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, wrote,

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

His point: the press – the so-called fourth estate – is even more important than government.

And from Jefferson’s time until now, the truth remains that that independent journalism is the cornerstone of any thriving democracy.

An independent press empowers citizens.

It enables them to understand the forces that shape their lives and make informed decisions.

It fosters meaningful civic engagement – from political engagement at the national level to community outreach and involvement at the local level.

I want to recognize the immense progress Kosovo has made in the past 25 years, as we celebrate the successes of Kosovo’s flagship news agency, Kosova Press.

As Kosovo emerged from the Milosevic’s brutal ethnic cleansing campaign , the Kosovan people were faced with the task of building institutions from the ground up.

And this included the media sector.

In January 1999, Kosova Press was established, and it operated for months – during the conflict – from a remote location on a mountaintop in central Kosovo.

In the midst of horrible repression, there were few local media outlets, and they faced significant challenges in carrying out their basic reporting duties.

Many Kosovans relied on international broadcasters to get even local news.

Now, let’s take a look at today.

Kosovo has a tremendously active news industry that has flexible and resilient as its institutions have grown.

Kosovan media had the enormous responsibility – and privilege – of documenting the formation of a new state, as Kosovo emerged from repression and went through UN administration and supervised independence before realizing its vision – that of a fully independent, sovereign, and multiethnic democracy.

Kosovan journalists continue to push boundaries in pursuit of improving the journalism sector and ensuring that every citizen has access to accurate information.

I have to admit that for me, I’m frequently disappointed that Kosovo no longer has print newspapers in circulation today.

But this just serves to illustrate a point: you are ahead of the times.

By fully embracing digital and social media, Kosovo not only adapted to the future; it is paving the way for other counties to do so as well.

Kosovo has one of the highest internet penetration rates in Europe.

So, even without print newspapers, Kosovan citizens in the furthest corners of the country can get their news instantly.

And Kosova Press has been a pioneer in this effort.

President Krasniqi, General Director Gashi, and Deputy Director Hashani’s tireless efforts have been instrumental in bringing us all together today.

I commend their efforts to bring representatives of news agencies from across Europe together for this conference.

This effort demonstrates their commitment to fostering international cooperation in the media sector.

Your presence here underscores the significance of this conference as a platform for a comprehensive set of conversations on the challenges we face in preserving and protecting media freedoms – not just in Kosovo, but regionally and globally.

While tonight is a celebration, I know you have a packed agenda tomorrow.

So I want to conclude by offering a few thoughts as you prepare for your discussions – and I look forward to hearing more them.

You are here to talk about the challenges to media freedom in the future.

And I hope you are able to discuss strategies to protect and promote free and independent media, too.

Your goals for the upcoming days are ambitious – but I see them as essential, too:

  • Promoting international cooperation;
  • Strengthening journalist capacity; and
  • Showcasing success stories.

As you think about these themes, I want to emphasize that the United States is your partner in addressing these challenges.

And as you embark on the first conference of this kind here in Kosovo, I am confident that your conversations over the next few days will be insightful and thought provoking.

I hope these conversations also pave the way for a future in which the pen remains mightier than any sword, and in which freedom of expression truly knows no boundaries.

Congratulations to Kosova Press – and your partners – for all that you’ve accomplished over the last quarter century.

I know that you are setting yourselves up for great success in the years to come.

And I look forward to our continued partnership to advance our shared vision of a strong, independent fourth estate in Kosovo.

Thank you.