Book store in the centre of Skoder, Albania

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Almost non-existent professional ethics, capture of the media by politics and financial unsustainability are just some of the main issues that make the Albanian media landscape particularly alarming. An interview

28/06/2024 -  Luisa Chiodi

Media independence is a topic that raises many concerns in Albania, especially in light of an almost total control by the government which has transformed the main outlets into instruments of political propaganda. We talked about it with Koloreto Cukali, journalist and producer who since 2017 has chaired the Albanian Media Council, an organisation seeking to set ethical standards for the journalistic profession and introduce media self-regulation mechanisms.

You head the Albanian Media Council, an organisation that promotes media self-regulation. What is it about?

The Albanian Media Council is a product of, I would say, European import. The EU supports self-regulation of the media and pushes for the creation of so-called media councils [as also foreseen by the recently adopted European Regulation on Freedom of the Media , ed.]. These are bodies to which the public can turn to complain about the conduct of the media.

It was not easy to establish this Council, it is a process that we have started for a few years and our government has done everything to sabotage it.

Albanian politicians have always tried to control the media, but the current prime minister has worked harder than others in this sense: unable to demonstrate concrete results, he works on media propaganda to demonstrate that everything is fine.

In one way or another the Albanian government controls most of the television networks. The Media Ownership Monitor by BIRN  examines exactly this widespread control of traditional media by the government. In the case of TVs, most of the owners are businessmen, the so-called oligarchs, who obtain public orders in exchange for propaganda in favour of the government. It's a situation that has been going on for years.

The only field that the prime minister and the mayor of Tirana - the two most important people in the country - cannot fully control is the online media. For years they have been trying to introduce a defamation law that would also regulate online media. Our Council attempted to block it with a mobilisation campaign; we got the support of many journalists and media and even the European Union supported us for a while. At a certain point the Venice Commission also intervened with an opinion that evaluated and effectively demolished the proposed law.

There are European regulations that sooner or later Albania will have to introduce: the new directive against SLAPPs, for example, goes in a direction contrary to that of our prime minister, but this is a topic that is not yet talked about in Albania.

Unfortunately there are many problems, there is a lot of defamation, professional ethics are at their lowest level ever. The media blackmails politicians and businessmen to make money. There is not a good climate.

The Albanian Media Council strives to counter this drift, especially in terms of journalism ethics. A rather difficult task…

It's difficult because the government is doing everything to sabotage this initiative. The prime minister needs to say that self-regulation does not work and the media close to the government are not taking part in our initiative because there are those who have put pressure on them.

Are there no professional organisations or journalists' unions in Albania?

No, there are only associations that deal with the media, but they are not unions, nor professional organisations, and none of them is capable of mobilising as a union would.

What do you think is the reason?

It's a long story. Trade unions were devastated by the communist regime. We don't have a real trade union tradition. Then the dictatorship ruined the collaborative spirit of the population. People no longer want to be part of an organisation because for 45 years they have been forced to be part of party organisations.

However, there have been some movements: for example, for environmental protection there have been initiatives that have moved Albanian society.

Personally I don't see a real impact here either. This type of movement can only make a difference if it manages to bring into play the European Union or some other international organisation that says "No, you can't do this", because here any resistance is useless.

So political interference is a fundamental problem.

The business model is the real problem of the media. In recent years the public no longer pays: first there were newspapers, the public bought them, now no one wants to pay anymore because information is expected to be free.

Here we lack the numbers to keep even small publications afloat. Media funding is public and controlled by politicians or comes from oligarchs who buy advertising. Then there is the money that comes from organised crime, from drugs, from crime...

There is no way to be financially independent. Once the resource problem is solved, almost everything is solved. There is only one solution: the European Union must finance the media, that is, find mechanisms that, for a period of say 5 years, make the media strong and independent.

Today the only media that make a difference are those financed by donors, for example BIRN, Citizens Channel,, but they are very few. Instead, we need to help commercial media that would like to do good journalism.

What is the situation regarding the safety of journalists in Albania?

A member of our Ethics Council, who is also a professor at the University of Tirana, once told me: "In Albania they don't kill journalists because there is no need, they have already killed journalism". The government does not need to threaten journalists, it resolves issues directly by dealing with the owners of the media.

There are threats coming from organised crime, but from what I know many journalists no longer report them because they have the perception that the police are not very motivated to help journalists.

Has the European integration process played a role in recent years for the protection of media freedom in Albania?

I don't see any real impact. For example, a few months ago, [the government] made some additions to the Audiovisual Media Authority law, but it did just the bare minimum required. Even though the Venice Commission expressed itself clearly, [the government] introduced only minor, formal changes…

We tried to apply a bit of pressure, but very often we don't know what's happening, almost nothing is transparent. Now it is said that they are working on Chapter 21 of the acquis (dedicated to trans-European networks, ed.), but it is not known who, what, how, when is doing it. There is no transparency at any level.

Even when [the government] meets representatives of the OSCE or the Council of Europe, no one comes to us and the consultations are often only formal.

In your opinion, what role do the international media have? If they talk about Albania and raise certain issues, do they also have an impact on an internal level?

Two or three years ago I met an Italian journalist who worked as a freelancer for various newspapers who told me: "If I write critically about Albania, no one publishes me, they told me clearly...".

Then there are cases in which the Albanian prime minister is hosted on an Italian programme and no one asks him any real questions...


This publication is the result of activities carried out within the Media Freedom Rapid Response  and ATLIB - Transnational Advocacy for Freedom of Information in the Western Balkans, a project co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The positions contained in this publication are the expression of the authors exclusively and do not necessarily represent the positions of the co-financing institutions.


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