Report: Albanian media vs. Council of Europe standards

Albanian Media Institute launched the report “Albanian media scene vs. European Standards” on April 24 in Tirana. The report, supported financially by the Embassy of the Netherlands, is an assessment of the media situation in the country, following the Council of Europe’s Indicators for media in a democracy.

The study concludes that only a few of the 27 principles have been consistently implemented in Albania. While Albanian legislation has been mostly harmonized to European regulation, the enforcement of the principles does not always measure up to the EU  standards due to incomplete or inconsistent legal regulation, weakness of institutions that enforce them, as well as the influence of other economic or political actors, along with the economic and social status of journalists.

Dewi van de Weerd, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Albania, stressed the importance of free media in a democracy and the support that the Netherlands provides to civil society and free media. “Journalists should be able to speak their minds freely and have time and space to investigate into stories that are important to the public,” she states in the foreword to the study. During the meeting she said that such studies could be periodical, highlighting the importance of regular assessment of media freedom in the country.

Remzi Lani, director of the Albanian Media Institute, said that Albania lacks a cohesive media strategy or policy and such reports could be useful in adopting a more research-based policy approach for the overall approach to the media.

Presentation of the Report. Left: Remzi Lani, AMI director; Right: Ilda Londo, AMI researcher

The report’s main findings were introduced by Ilda Londo, researcher at the Albanian Media Institute. The contributors to the study also intervened, including Dorian Matlija from Respublica, Aleksandër Çipa from the Union of Albanian Journalists, Aleksandra Bogdani from BIRN Albania, Rrapo Zguri from Department of Journalism at the University of Tirana, and Blendi Salaj from Media Council.

The report finds that almost all standards of the principles of the Council of Europe are relatively guaranteed by legislation, but the practice is not always true to these legal guarantees. The explanations for this deviation are complex and related to the dynamics of the media system, as well as to the broader social and political context in the country.

For some of the indicators analyzed, the main problem is incomplete legislation that has not been fully harmonised with European law, as in the case of balancing act between the protection of state secret and freedom of information, in protecting confidentiality of sources of information, and in enforcement of equal access for media to distribution channels.

Sometimes the regulations lack the mechanisms necessary to guarantee their implementation, such as sanctions, as in the case of openness of the authorities to all media. Despite the good work done by independent public authorities in this field, such as the Commissioner on Information and Data Protection, the practice is still not in line with the high standards set by the law.

In other media areas, the main problem, according to the study, is that regulation is not fully implemented, or has been implemented in a selective manner and sometimes also contrary to the original intent of the law. The main reason seems to be priority of vested interests of particular actors, such as politics or business, over the spirit of implementing legislation to the letter.

Part of the problem for this lies with the judiciary, currently enjoying the lowest trust in public. The report shows the judiciary is not always consistent and not necessarily guided by ECHR standards with regard to the principles of legal protection of the right to freedom of expression and freedom to criticise state officials.

The mix of legal shortcomings, weak institutions, lack of tradition, and also external economic and political influences mainly explain the problems in fulfilling European standards with regard to the independence and efficiency of the regulator [Audiovisual Media Authority] as well as public broadcaster’s independence and editorial autonomy.

Finally, the report highlights that the media system in Albania is particularly lagging behind European standards when it comes to its economic model and trends, the lack of guarantees for the protection of editorial independence in face of economic pressures, and the poor organization capabilities of journalists to protect their rights.

The reasons for this are to be found partly in inadequate legislation, as in the case of transparency of ownership and prevention of monopolies, the neutrality of state’s financial assistance, as well as in the failure to offer a legal solution and favourable market conditions that would contribute to achieving independence of editorial policy.

Download the report “Albanian media scene vs. European Standards” in English

Download the report in Albanian

The article is a contribution by the Albanian Media Institute, a SEENPM member organization.