A Point of View on Media in Albania
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published February 24, 2018
"We all know the Freedom House qualification for Albania: Albania is considered only partly free. I regret to say that the situation in Albania is not yet in accordance with EU standards. I regret that this spring a journalist here was molested. I regret that intimidation of journalists happens often. A lot of shouting and scolding is not conducive for a climate of respect and freedom to speak up. People feel threatened. I regret that business interests, media and politics seem unhealthily closely interlinked in this country," Dutch ambassador Dewi van de Weerd said in a conference "Media in Albania in Front of the Mirror" in November last year. Further on she said that despite this situation, there is also some good news and the good news, according to her, is that some new voices could be heard in 2017.
The Dutch Ambassador's appeal was: "Albania needs many more independent voices to speak up. Its media institutions need to play their role more independently. Citizens and journalists can work together more on fact finding, blogging and crowd funding."
As matter of fact, recent reports of international organisations and studies in the field of media, have quoted Albanian media as being free from formal censorship and authoritarian repression, but not free from the influences of government, politics and economic interests of media owners.
So, an overview of different analysis has led me to the opinion that media in Albania is free, but not independent. This is the most superficial conclusion on its status, but a deeper and more comprehensive analysis testifies that it is, unfortunately, neither free nor independent.
There are many factors which cause this critical situation, but, on top of all, stands the fact that most of media owners have other businesses and the media is run through their interests.
It is true that journalists are not jailed anymore, which means they are free to write on any topic. However, their independence is affected because of the interests that the owners have towards politics. The truth gets often lost between the blackmailing and the service towards politics. This has reduced very much the credibility of the media in the eyes of the public opinion, let alone in face of other circles like intellectuals, businesses but even internationals who have constantly drawn the attention to this.
On the other hand, the media is highly politicized. This becomes clear and is evident if the evening news broadcasts of the major TVs are followed. It is apparent a politicized editorial line. This reflects a greatly politicized state of matters, which, as a matter of fact, has affected the entire society in Albania. Due to this a vicious circle has been created. The society influences on the politicization of the media and the latter on the politicization of the society. For a professional 'eye' it is easy to find out the editorial line of any media outlet, its inclination towards left or right. For example, the preferential distribution of state advertising to media close to the government is a worrying trend that affects editorial independence and freedom of the media.
This reality does not permit the creation of a genuine and healthy political culture for promoting democracy. It is significantly evidenced that Albanian media is interested very little and superficially in issues that are related to world events. This influences on the 'provincialization' of the public opinion devaluating, in fact, the ideal of the opening towards the world and consequently it makes the public opinion victim of manipulation.
With regards to the professional aspect there are worrying weaknesses in the media field. First and foremost, it is the fact that Albania has a very weak journalism school. Secondly, the main media outlets have become a monopole of a handful of analysts, who are present on most of the TVs' screens and written media. And what is the worst is that this group of analysts is 'clusterized' according to the interests of political and business circles for which they serve. It happens at random that these analysts change 'masters' and consequently their attitudes and approach. This is most harmful blow on the public opinion, especially on low educated circles making most of the population in Albania.
But this phenomenon brings about another mishap: loss of the trust in media. This distrust grows not only by the clientelism of the media, but also because of the humiliating offences of the politics against it. It suffices to mention that Prime Minister Edi Rama calls continuously the media a 'cauldron'. It goes without saying that the 'cauldron' are those few journalists, who are critical towards the government, and, as a matter of fact, most of them echo the approaches of the anti-government political groups.
Corruption and Media
Corruption remains particularly difficult to investigate and prosecute. The OSCE Presence in Albania calls for enhancing the accountability of the public administration, independent institutions and the independent investigation of corruption, has said OSCE Head of Presence Bernd Borchardt.
Mr. Borchardt made that remark on his comments on the results that Transparency International published in its Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 on 22 February 2018, ranking Albania the 91st among 180 countries and territories included in the index, a drop of eight places since 2016. Albania scored 38 out of 100 points.
"Citizens must play their part, too, by refusing to tolerate or sustain the problem," said the OSCE Ambassador. The call on citizens to play their part in combating corruption within the public sector leads to the ways and means how that fight can be fought and media's role is in the frontline. Are citizens' opinions on corruption, their concerns over it reflected adequately in the media? It can hardly say 'yes'. A 'self-censure' of most of editors because of media owners' interests does not give space to citizens' voice, to the call 'Speak Up Against Corruption'!
Owners Vs Journalists
Another very important cause of the current state of the media is the treatment of journalists by owners. Besides a handful 'elite' group of analysts the majority of journalists are unprotected in face of owners. They work without contracts and are not organized in trade unions, which are supposed to protect their rights and interests. "Almost 90 percent of journalists are working massively undeclared, and receive salaries with delay (1 to 3 months) or sometimes not at all. Fear of losing their job forces them not to raise their voices against the media managers. Contracts are often imposed and formulated in such a way that they have no legal ground," says Jonila Godole of the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture.
Even the question of the journalists associations is complicated as there are three or four such associations, which are in competition with each other. My experience shows that they do not reach out to ordinary journalists and their rights and worries. "There is a Union of Albanian Journalists, but it has limited influence. A significant number of journalists are not organised or represented in any form, reflecting the country's lack of tradition of trade union organisations. Professional and ethical standards in journalism need to be strengthened," the EU Progress Report 2016 for Albania found.
Journalists' individual insecurity makes them vulnerable towards owners, and press professionalism is the great loser. Due to this journalists are generally young. As soon as they find a more secure job place thanks to the connections they create through the work in the media they quit. Probably I might be a case among the few in Albania media having started the professional career in 1971 as a translator and journalist at the Albanian Telegraphic Agency (10 years), then as scientific fellow at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary International Relations, a diplomat working with international organizations and councilor to Albania's Mission to UN in New York, and a return to journalism at Albanian Daily News where I work since 21 years. In this frame I would like to highlight ADN's endeavor, sometimes 'painful', to keep to its independent editorial line which is mainly made possible by its owners' attitude. Having the diplomatic corps in Tirana and other international bodies in and out of Albania as the major readership, its impartiality has made ADN a reliable source of information something which is highly appreciated by many diplomats and other foreign readers. ADN's editorial integrity, as many say, is the key making it an important source of information for all its readers.
With regards to my 21-year working experience with ADN, I mention this case as argument of the painful phenomenon in Albania where short careers in media cause the failure for the creation of more prominent media personalities like in other countries.
It should be underlined that one of the reasons of this is the lack of financial independence, which, on the other hand, has caused the absence of investigative journalism. A small number of such journalists, who have tried to create their investigative profile, have, in a way or another, fallen into the trap of financial profits. Therefore in most cases their investigations are not really independent as they should be. In many cases their investigations are served by government circles or political adversaries of the consecutive power. These 'investigations' are more successful in the form of 'paparazzi', rose events, which are a great attraction for the public opinion.
I am of the opinion that even the help of the international factor has not always been guided as it should for laying strong foundations of an independent media in Albania. It is spoken of financial contributions and international projects in the media field, but, unfortunately, most of them have followed the political trend, focusing on what I underlined above - the close 'elitarian' circles. The latter have become the main benefiters of these contributions, and even the ones who enjoy the 'friendship' of those who distribute the aids for the Albanian media.
If a sort of informative source has been currently created surpassing the above mentioned schemes are the social networks and especially some portals whose number is growing. Different reports on Albanian media have underlined the recent positive effect of social media on freedom of expression. Many journalists and citizens state freely their opinions in the social networks, unlike traditional media, where some limitations and restrictions apply. People find in these social networks more concrete information, reports and analyses, which cover economic, social, cultural and even political problems in a more independent way and close to the reality as compared with what the 'big guns' do. I should haste to admit that it cannot be said that they are free from clientelism - after all, they need financial sources. However, the reality shows that they are becoming popular.
As a conclusion it can be said that the Albanian media is a reflection of the prolonged political transition, which this Balkan country is experiencing, but with a dear cost: weakening instead of strengthening the role of the media as the 'fourth power'!
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial line of Albanian Daily News