In the crowded landscape of Albanian media, encompassing broadcast, print, radio, and digital platforms, the prevalent narrative is one of independence and commitment to the highest journalistic standards. Outlets proudly profess their dedication to delivering truthful, balanced, and fact-checked news, ostensibly serving the public interest. However, the reality often diverges from this idealized self-portrayal. In practice, a discernible political bias permeates many media stories, with facts contorted to align with the political and economic interests of media owners, political leaders, and other influential entities. Audiences and revenues remain concentrated in a handful of family-owned media houses with other non-media business interests in heavily regulated markets, making them susceptible to government influence.
This undue influence transforms journalists into conduits for state-sponsored, corporate, or political propaganda, eroding the authenticity and impartiality of news delivery. The few journalists and independent media that resist, become targets of attacks and smear campaigns. In navigating this intricate web of media ownership concentration, political attacks and government influence, Albania faces an uphill battle in preserving journalistic integrity amidst a complex interplay of interests.
Media and Journalists Under Fire
Independent media and journalists are important pillars of free speech in a democratic society and provide significant checks and balances by holding those vested with public office and political power to account. However, attacks and smear campaigns against journalists and independent media coming from the highest echelons of power remain widespread in Albania, undermining public trust in journalism and media, making it easier for disinformation and conspiracy theories to spread. These attacks also pose a risk for the security of journalists and media workers, having a chilling effect on their reporting and pushing them toward self-censorship.
High concentration of audiences and media ownership is a structural threat to media freedom, as it stifles the plurality of voices needed for an informed populace, a prerequisite of any country aspiring European Union membership. Although Tirana is an EU candidate and has opened accession negotiations with Brussels, new data collected and analyzed by the MOM Albania team shows that the country has made little progress in establishing a plural and viable media market. While there is generally a lack of trusted audience data, it remains clear that revenues and control are concentrated in the hands of a few family-owned media groups, which dominate the media market, in broadcasting as well as print, and use the media to advance their political and economic interests, tied to lucrative businesses in heavily regulated markets.
Albania's government employs a multifaceted strategy of rewards and punishments to shape media coverage. While certain prominent media outlets receive subsidies and concessions, those critical of the ruling party face fines, inspections, and other punitive measures. Government subsidies and contracts are not only limited to media outlets but also extend to the non-media businesses of owners, further entwining economic interests with editorial decisions. Government not only exerts sway over proprietors in the realm of media but also wields significant influence over the creation of news media content, through the Median and Information Agency (MIA), which has been compared by media rights watchdogs to a ‘propaganda ministry’.