Attacks on the Press 1999: Albania

While Albania is still far from having free and functioning media, there were no direct state attacks on independent journalists during 1999. This marked a vast improvement over just a few years ago, when journalists were routinely imprisoned or attacked for critical reporting on government activities.

CPJ documented only one violent attack on an Albanian journalist in 1999. On November 23, unknown assailants shot and seriously wounded Vjollca Karanxa, a journalist with Radio Televize Pogradec (RTP), from a passing car while he was leaving a school in Pogradec. A police investigation was under way at year’s end; the motive for the shooting was still unknown.

The quality of reporting in Albania is compromised, in that media owners are often linked to political groups and the Albanian press suffers from the corruption that is endemic throughout society. Newspapers are dominated by political opinions rather than objective facts, and there is a clear aversion to reporting that might endanger certain economic or political interests. In part this is due to the country’s desperate economic conditions. Low advertising revenues, relatively high printing costs, and poor distribution networks encourage media to seek financing from political parties or wealthy individuals, many of whom are active in Albanian politics. However, sensationalism and irresponsibility are the dominant characteristics of Albanian journalism.

With newspaper readership dwindling, broadcast media have become increasingly dominant, particularly since the passage of a 1998 electronic-media law regulating the licensing of private media outlets and the transfer of state-owned Albanian television to public ownership. There are an estimated 25 private radio stations and 31 TV stations currently in operation, but only the state television and radio network, Radio and Televize Shqiptare (RTSH), covers the entire country. While RTSH is less stringently controlled by the government than in previous years, it remains an outlet of the state, as does the official news agency, the Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA). Both give disproportionate coverage to official state visits and government points of view.

The widespread use of satellite dishes makes news from the BBC, CNN, and other international outlets readily available. Albanian services of the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe can be heard on radio.

In February, Parliament passed an amended law that dropped criminal penalties for publishing state secrets. However, under the law, the state can still take legal action against journalists or media that publish classified information.

April saw the launch of Media Shqiptare, Albania’s first media-studies magazine. In September, the Association of European Journalists added an Albania section. There are no legal restrictions on the Internet, which is increasingly used by media and nongovernmental organizations. But widespread poverty keeps the vast majority of the population offline.