Attacks on the Press 2000: Albania

STATE-SPONSORED ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS ABATED significantly and some reforms were initiated last year, but the Albanian press still faced economic underdevelopment, low professional standards, and ongoing security risks.

High taxes and printing costs, poor distribution networks, low advertising revenues, limited business skills, and endemic corruption have made editors and publishers dependent on subsidies from political parties. Because most media owners are affiliated with one of two dominant political parties, news coverage tends to be highly partisan. Politicians often bribe or otherwise induce journalists to write negative articles about their rivals. The public, as a result, is generally mistrustful of journalists.

Albanian press coverage of the October 1 local elections mirrored the bitter political feuding between Sali Berisha’s opposition Democratic Party (DP) and Prime Minister Ilir Meta’s ruling Socialist Party (SP). The public television broadcaster TVSH and the Tirana daily Zeri i Popullit provided disproportionate coverage of Socialist candidates, while the private television station ATN-1 and the daily Rilindja Demokratike concentrated on the Democrats. Smaller parties received little coverage from anyone.

After the Democratic Party fared poorly at the polls, Berisha claimed fraud and went on to boycott a second round of voting on October 15. On November 15, DP protesters attacked U.S. free-lance photographer Gary Fabiano outside the prime minister’s office in the capital, Tirana. Fabiano’s assailants allegedly mistook him for a member of the Albanian security service. They broke his camera, knocked him to the ground, and beat him.

Some journalists were attacked by police officers while covering public events, according to local human rights activists. On May 1, for example, ATN-1 cameraman Flamur Hasbegu and journalist Taulanta Boja were filming police headquarters in the town of Berat when a police officer dragged Hasbegu into the police station and assaulted him. The Tirana-based Albanian Human Rights Group reported no cases in which Albanian police had been held accountable for such attacks.

At year’s end, the government was drafting a new press law. Local journalists and human rights activists are pressing for libel to be defined as a civil rather than criminal offense.

The ability of journalists to influence media reforms or to protest attacks on their colleagues remained limited by disunity, however. The country boasts several press associations, but they are fragmented and unable to speak with one voice.

The National Council of Radio & Television (NCRT) sought to license numerous private radio and television stations that had been broadcasting without permits since 1997. After the October elections, dozens of local stations received licenses. On November 14, meanwhile, TV KLAN, TV Arberia, and Top Albania Radio were issued national broadcasting licenses. The licensing process was apparently transparent and based on criteria approved by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, unlicensed stations continued to broadcast at year’s end, since the NCRT lacked any enforcement mechanism.