Attacks on the Press 2001: Albania

Independent journalists in Albania continue to struggle with economic underdevelopment, highly partisan politics, and security risks. Low professional standards and stalled government reforms of media laws further compounded journalists’ problems in 2001.

High taxes and printing costs, poor distribution networks, low advertising revenues, limited business skills, and endemic corruption keep editors and publishers dependent on financial subsidies from political parties. Because most media owners are affiliated with one of two dominant political parties–either Prime Minister Ilir Meta’s ruling Socialist Party (SP), or Sali Berisha’s opposition Democratic Party (DP)–news coverage tends to be highly partisan.

While a sluggish economy has led to a decline in the print media’s advertising revenue and thus decreased circulation, some broadcast media outlets have begun to gain a degree of financial stability from their rising advertising revenues.

Politicians often bribe or otherwise induce journalists to write negative articles about their rivals. University training for journalists is poor, and the media training provided by Western nongovernmental organizations usually has little influence on journalistic ethics. As a result, the public remains generally mistrustful of journalists.

Parliamentary elections in the summer of 2001 were highly partisan, and the press coverage mirrored the bitter political feud between the SP and the DP’s Union for Victory coalition. Albanian Television (TVSH), the influential public broadcaster, helped contribute to an SP victory via positive coverage of the party.

Nonetheless, media coverage of the elections improved somewhat over previous years, with private broadcast media providing a broader variety of information, according to political analyst Fatos Lubonja. Two new private television stations–TV Arberia and TV Klan–gave rural viewers an alternative to TVSH. While TV Klan favored the SP in its electoral coverage, two local channels based in Tirana–TV Shijak and ATN-1–openly supported the DP.

A number of journalists working for pro-DP media outlets were reportedly harassed during the campaign. On June 15, police officers detained Enis Fani, a free-lance cameraman working for ATN-1, for several hours in the city of Durres while he was filming an argument between police officers and DP political candidate Hajdar Kovaci, the Tirana-based Free Media Albanian Forum reported.

Journalists investigating politically sensitive issues, such as organized crime or corruption, also continue to face security risks. On November 8, an unknown assailant assaulted and threatened Nikolle Lesi, publisher of the independent Tirana daily Koha Jone, after the paper published allegations that a hotel in the city of Durres was built illegally, according to the Tirana-based Albanian Human Rights Group. Meanwhile, police officers continued to threaten and detain journalists.

A new press law drafted at the end of 2000 remained stalled in 2001. The draft law protects the confidentiality of sources and limits the state’s ability to confiscate printed material. However, the legislation also establishes a “right to reply” statute–which requires publications to print letters to the editor from individuals mentioned in articles–as well as a press council to regulate the media.

The government failed to decriminalize libel in 2001. Even compliance with previously passed laws–such as the Freedom of Information on Official Documents Law, which codifies how journalists can obtain government information–remains poor since journalists must often bribe government clerks to obtain official documents.

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