Albanian media roundtable

Report from the "Albanian perspectives on media development and journalism support" a roundtable discussion at the GFMD meeting in Tirana on 30 September 2021.

Mira Milosevic, Executive Director, Global Forum for Media Development - GFMD

  • Importance of coalition of media partners (international community, media organisations, diplomacy level) and local actors, journalists, and media organisations to flag violations of media freedom and safety of journalists.

  • This coalition should also advocate for having media freedom and freedom of expression in the agenda of multilateral and bilateral relations.

  • It is paramount to work with local organisations which have better insight in media situation and landscape and partner them with international networks, forums, organisations to exchange experience and build partnerships to foster media freedom.

Remzi Lani, Member of the outgoing GFMD Steering Committee, director of Albanian Media Institute

  • Echoed the messages of Ms Milosevic on the importance to understand local media context and build bridges with global media organisations.

  • Albania has a vibrant media landscape with still a significant support from the international community. The engagement of international community in media ecosystem in Albania has a legacy of both success and failures and it is important to understand both legacies.

  • A major concern currently in Albania is the danger of “false speech” – hate speech, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, fake news. It is important for stakeholders to engage in a comprehensive discussion on this issue.

Alastair King-Smith, UK Ambassador to the Republic of Albania (and former Co-ordinator of the Global Campaign for Media Freedom at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

  • Appreciating GFMD as a global effort that is sustainable to impact free and independent media

  • Media freedom is fundamental to support all other freedoms and democracy as a whole

  • The GFMD workshop in Tirana is a great opportunity to share lessons learnt, experiences and contribute to partnership between different partners.

  • The aim is to identify common interests and foster new partnerships for media development between local and international partners and keep media freedom high up in the agenda.

  • Some of the concerns of media development and media freedom in Albania: concentration of ownership, risks of media plurality and financial sustainability, disinformation, fake news and how to sustain quality of journalism, self-censorship, media trust and unethical online media reporting including bribery for attacking business or organisations, regulation of online and mainstream media, self-regulation, and professional standards.

  • UK Embassy interest on climate change considering the Glasgow high level meeting in October 2021 on climate change. Sustainable energy, circular economy, and related environmental issues.

  • UK Embassy interest on security issues as well.

  • The role of media is crucial in exposing challenges around organized crime, corruption, climate change and enforcement of law and thus have complementarity of impact on democratic processes such as transparency and accountability of government, justice system.

  • Interest in identifying proposals on how the international community can support media freedom. Also building local and international partnerships, putting media freedom high up in the agenda, supporting media integrity, ethical reporting and tackling gender equality in media as well. Thus, the challenge is to make it work in Albania and share it as a success story.

Lufti Dervishi, moderator of the forum, highlighted significant changes in the media landscape and the blurring of boundaries between media and ‘audiences’ with cases of politicians becoming media. Also, trust in media is becoming a worrisome phenomenon with clear decline of citizens trust in the media.

Blerjana Bino made an overview of media landscape in Albania based on the findings of Safe Journalists Network report on Indicators on the Level of Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety in Albania 2020 highlighting challenges of media freedom in Albania particularly in terms of implementation of legal guarantees for media freedom, due prevention, due process and actual attacks, the position of journalists, particularly women, in the workspace, access to information, risks of disinformation/misinformation, but also censored information, centralisation of public information and propaganda.

So, in terms of the legal environment, even though the Constitution of Albania guarantees the freedom of expression, media, and information, such provisions are not thoroughly implemented in practice with clear signs of deterioration of media freedom. For instance, In Albania, defamation is still a criminal contravention and there have been recent attempts by governmental officials to increase sanctions. Investigative and critical journalists are particularly more often the target of defamation lawsuits particularly SLAPPs as a mechanism to censor, intimidate, or silence independent media.

In terms of the safety of journalists and due prevention measures, the report finds that Albania’s state institutions have not established yet effective mechanisms that are specific for journalists and media staff to provide protective measures when they are threatened. Also in terms of due process, we find limited follow-up investigation, cases of attacks against journalists have not been resolved yet and there is limited transparency about the investigation process remain critical.

In terms of safety, actual attacks against journalists have been recorded in 2020 such as actual physical harm, arbitrary detention, seizing of equipment and disruption of reporting. Threats against the lives and physical safety of journalists exist but, such cases are not systemic.

In terms of, journalists’ position in the workplace: journalists labour rights enforcement is not consolidated with the COVID-19 pandemic further impacting the economic position in the workplace (job contracts, salary cuts, social security and others), but more concerning is that women journalists face somehow increased difficulties compared to men in terms of salaries, intimidation, gap in leading positions in the newsroom, and harassment. Women journalists, particularly young, report facing sexual harassment in the workplace. However, such cases are not reported officially and usually no charges are filed due to an overall climate of intimidation and a general attitude of ‘blaming the victim’.

Self-censorship is still present. Copyright infringement is also a major problem in broadcast, print and online media. Thus, pointing to the overall quality of content, its diversity, and how much it is connected to audiences and communities’ needs. The report highlights the necessity for media, particularly local media, to venture into alternative ways of ensuring financial sustainability through engagement of audiences and communities, diaspora engagement, monetization of content and covering topics that have currently limited coverage including environment, climate change, empowerment of marginalised groups, impact of technology, gender equality and others. Soon a safe journalist index will be published for the region, including Albania with a comparative report and ranking of WB6 countries and Croatia.

Challenges or structural issues highlighted by the participants included:

  • Role of government (local, central government and other authorities) is problematic with attempts to introduce legislation that hinders media freedom; establishment of centralised public communication and media agency; intense propaganda and systemic attempts to replace journalism with pre-registered and pre-prepared media content by the Public Relations staff of Prime Minister, ministers, Mayor, and other authorities.

  • The challenges in law enforcement is another major concern with the media legal framework being good on paper, but with critical shortcomings in its implementation.

  • Limited political will to ensure a functioning and enabling environment for media freedom, endemic and grand corruption, limited functioning of justice system and overall limited democratic culture affect media freedom and independence.

  • Symbiotic relations between media corporations, politicians and businesses based on clientelistic and other vested interests hinder the overall media freedom and independence (limited media plurality, concentrated ownership, low media trust etc.)

Topics and issues that were highlighted in the discussion included:

  • Access to information, ensuring safe and enabling space to do quality journalism. Limited implementation of the legal framework on freedom of information primarily due to lack of political will, a culture of secrecy and retaining public information, limited practices to implement accountability and transparency measures. Limited access to information negatively impacts media reporting and in particular investigative journalism. Safety of journalists and access to public information is part of the Sustainable Development Goals (16/10) and this is a window of opportunity to pressure government to foster sustainability and accountability and better implementation of access to information legal framework. Also, it is important to highlight the public interest perspective also in accessing and using public information as a public good. Cross border collaboration and other coalitions with international organisations are needed for fostering access to information and EU and other donors can play an important role.

  • Investigative journalism as a key dimension of quality journalism and democracy. It is paramount to have an enabling environment and support for journalists and media organisations to do investigative journalism. Risk of SLAPP increasing as a threat to investigative journalists (financial burden), limited access to information, delays and other pressures to abandon stories and reporting.

  • Role of journalists in advocating for change or monitoring legal changes or changes in other legislation that affect media freedom, report, raise awareness and mobilise support for media freedom.

  • Role of international community and donors in supporting media organisations and the necessity of bottom-up approaches and engaging with local media without imposing donors’ agenda and interest.

  • Quality of data collection and publication for media freedom, journalists’ safety and link of media freedom with Sustainable Development Goals.

  • The necessity to create an enabling environment for journalists as professionals (individuals) to be able to do good journalism: capacity development, legal support, financial support, networking opportunity, improving labor rights.

  • Strengthening local media and local news.

  • Organisation and coordination among media associations, NGOs, and other actors involved in media landscape for better impact, advocacy, and outreach.

  • Trust in media and quality of journalism for increasing media trust in Albania.

  • Information disorder with issues such as fake news, hate speech, disinformation, conspiracy theories, propaganda deteriorate the overall media landscape in Albania. The information disorder is primary domestic and political with limited influence from Russia or China as in the rest of the Western Balkans region. The need for combining quality of journalism with quality of education through media literacy programmes.

Ways forward:

A coalition of international and local partners to support media freedom.

Direct engagement with media in local contexts.

Journalism in the digital space including online safety and digital rights.

Focus on particular areas of interest for the future: climate change, organized crime, corruption, diaspora, gender and specific topics of interest to audiences.

Capitalising on the digital transformation of media and engagement with audiences.

Relevance of knowledge and skills through capacity development, exchange of experiences, networking and mobility of journalists.

Change of mindset and culture of how to do quality journalism.

Financial sustainability through alternative sources of funding and monetization.

Ensuring media plurality and breaking the concentration of media ownership.

Enforcing journalists’ labour rights.

Media literacy and in general digital literacies and critical thinking of citizens/audiences.

Last updated