by JILL B. STOCKTON
Reynolds School of Journalism Associate Professor Ben Holden has been working internationally to help the Republic of Kosovo strengthen its judiciary and provide guidelines to the journalists covering the court system in the Republic.
Holden recently traveled to Kosovo on behalf of the U. S. State Department to participate in the 3rd Annual Kosovo Judicial Conference. While there he gave a brief presentation on a handbook he created over the summer titled the “Handbook for Kosovo Journalists Covering the Courts.”
The Handbook was created to assist journalists in covering the courts in Kosovo, which declared itself a sovereign nation in 2008. In this new nation, there is a broad suspicion that government officials – including judges – are corrupt. On the other hand, many journalists covering the courts have had scant professional training and therefore struggle with such basic concepts as objectivity and attribution.
The handbook is currently being translated into Serbian and Albanian. It is in production to be published by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in partnership with the Kosovo Judicial Council, the administrative arm of the Kosovo Supreme Court; the Kosovo Judicial Institute, the training body for judges in Kosovo; and the Kosovo Press Association.
“Ben’s work is a great example of The Reynolds’ School’s global professional outreach,” Dean Al Stavitsky said. “His focus on the intersection of free press and fair trial has international impact, helping to improve international judiciaries and how media cover the courts.”
In addition to his presentation, Holden moderated a panel of judicial and media professionals including Ron Keefover, the recently retired public information officer of the Kansas Supreme Court, members of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), the Kosovo Law Institute, the President of the Kosovo Court of Appeals, Kosovar journalists and members from the NGO Advocacy Training and Research Centre.
The panel session titled, “Civil Society, Media and the Courts,” attracted approximately 200 judges. Judges in attendance were encouraged to participate in a discussion regarding the role of a civil society, how media report on the courts and challenges often encountered.
“America essentially created the nation of Kosovo when Bill Clinton bombed the Serbian Army in 1999,” Holden said.
A former practicing attorney and newspaper executive editor, Holden is fond of quoting what he calls the “Colin Powell-Bed-Bath-And-Beyond Rule.”
“General Powell always said that in the area of foreign policy, ‘you break it, you bought it.’ I think that’s why we are in Kosovo,” said Holden. “And more seriously, our mission to create a new, viable and authentic democracy in Eastern Europe is in large part dependent upon the viability of its institutions – including the media and the courts.”
Along with the presentation of the Handbook and moderating the panel, Holden worked closely with Keefover to lead three days of media and public relations training for Kosovar judicial Public Information Officers, judges and prosecutors.
Domestically, Holden is scheduled to serve as a panelist and presenter of a white paper comparing Kosovo and U.S. courts-and-media laws and practices at the University of Missouri School of Law on January 31. The seminar is being held in honor of the late New York Times court journalist Anthony Lewis and will feature Times courts reporter Adam Liptak. All papers at the conference are scheduled to be published in a special edition of the Missouri Law Review in the summer of 2014.