Freedom of the media in Albania
While international indices describe the country as partly free, Reporters Without Borders ranks the Western Balkan state only 76th out of 180. Remzi Lani, head of the Albanian Media Institute, sees the country as a grey zone, criticises Albanian media and fights for change with his work.
With a serious but friendly expression, Remzi Lani takes a seat in the front chair of his conference room and looks through the room. Lani heads the Albanian Media Institute, which is marked by an inconspicuous panel on the outside of the building. And it is exactly this inconspicuous impression that Lani himself makes. Exhausted, he explains that he recently returned from a trip to Paris. Then he begins to talk about what he has been preoccupied with all his life: Media. “You know? The media situation in Albania, but also that in the entire Balkans, is very complex,” he says and leans against his armchair.
Remzi Lani talks about media freedom
“No country has changed more in recent years than Albania. There have been improvements, but also things that have worsened. Black and white – we are somewhere in between.”
Remzi Lani looks back on a long career as a journalist: Zeri i Rinise in Tirana, the Spanish El Mundo, Zeri from Pristina and other international newspapers. Today he is not only the Director of the Albanian Media Institute, which supports young journalists in their education and researches the Albanian media market and its development, but also the first President of the South East Network of Media Centers and Media Institutes, an association of 15 Southeast European media institutes. Until 2017, Lani was also Chairman of the Open Society Foundation of Albania, which fights for democratization and more openness in society. He is also co-founder of the Albanian Human Rights Association, founded in 1990. Based on his experience, Lani is regarded as an expert on the Balkans and a media critic.
What is the real state of media freedom in Albania?
In Albania, freedom of expression and freedom of the media are enshrined in law. Nevertheless, there are influences that impair journalistic work: “In Albania we are not talking about censorship by the government, but about self-censorship. We’re not talking about open controls, but about hidden economic and political influences,” says Lani, adding that it’s not necessary for the government to exert intensive pressure on journalists: “In Albania much has been privatised. The right of private initiatives is higher than the right to media freedom or the right to express oneself freely. Journalists cannot feel free in this environment”. According to Lani, the most serious problems for Albania’s media are not democratic ones. Much more they would include capitalist aspects.
Hidden state ownership of private media
“The Albanian media market is very wild, unregulated, chaotic and non-transparent,” says the media expert. There are a total of 19 daily newspapers and around 700 digital news portals in the country. By way of comparison, there are 16 daily newspapers in Austria – with about three times as many inhabitants. For Lani the number of Albanian media institutions is too high and he also sees further difficulties: “The government uses inflammatory language against us as media. Politicians try to control and influence the media and companies want to use it to their own advantage.”
According to a report by the Albanian Media Institute, which compares the Albanian media scene with EU standards, many state-controlled companies own private media. The population is usually unaware of this. In the development of the media market after the transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1990, media privatisation was not part of the public agenda. Lani believes that the Albanian media can also be described as patronage-based. In his opinion, they would represent the interests of companies and politicians rather than those of the population: “I have the feeling that the media are journalistically free, but not totally independent.
“Grey Zone”: Albanian media in comparison
According to Lani, most of the problems of the Albanian media would occur in other countries as well, “Perhaps they are just being dealt with more calmly here. It’s easier to be grey than black or white,” says the media expert. In Albania some things work quite well, but other things are problematic. For many, the quality and professionalism of the media is a big problem. For Lani there is this difficulty, but he believes that the lack of quality is mainly mentioned to attack Albanian media. The problems lie not only in the integrity of the media but, according to the media expert, mainly in the economy.
Another problem is the regulation of media in Albania, which has also been caused by the blossoming of private media. “In Austria, a law for private media must first be approved and then they can start working. In Albania it’s the other way round,” explains Lani. The government would only regulate media here if they had already started work.
For him, the EU also failed because of these problems: “EU integration worked well to transform new democracies, but it didn’t really work when it came to the media. When it comes to freedom of the media in the European Union, I think Bucharest is certainly no better than Tirana, Sofia no better than Belgrade and I don’t need to mention what Budapest is like. It is even worse there than in the Western Balkans’.