At a first glance, Albania's media landscape provides the picture of a very vivid scene with a high number of visual, digital and print media for a relatively low number of consumers. Therefore, in terms of numbers, we might be tempted to think that there is a well-balanced media plurality where media consumers enjoy a wide range of choice.
However, looking closer, we realize that what is offered by this high number of media outlets is in fact a quite limited scope of content, often sensational and of limited reliability. Additionally, media overwhelmingly concentrate on domestic issues leading to a situation in which Albanian media consumers have little knowledge of what is going on outside Albania, even in neighbouring countries.
Today's Media Development Forum is designed to provide a platform for professional dialogue on where Albania stands on key issues such as the reform of the public broadcaster, digitalization, working conditions of journalists and professional standards in the media.
There have been serious delays in the transformation of the RTSH into a true public service broadcaster. It took two years for the Parliament to elect and appoint members of the new RTSH Steering Board. Now, after seven months of work of the new Board, the new management has still not been elected.
The Presence fully supports the members of the RTSH Steering Board in taking an independent decision as soon as possible to elect the top management of the national public broadcaster. New management is a precondition for transforming the RTSH into a truly sustainable, independent, accountable and quality-based public broadcaster.
At the moment in Albania, there is a serious imbalance between well-developed commercial TV stations and a marginalised national public service broadcaster. The continuation of the current situation will mean that public media do not fulfil their original scope, namely to provide reliable information, act as a watchdog of democracy, offer quality entertainment and introduce contemporary education in the interest of Albanian citizens.
As second key challenge to be discussed at this forum is the employment situation and social position of journalists.
There seems to be a widespread practice in Albania of weakening the professional independence of journalists by keeping them dependent on their employers in violation of legal provisions. This mainly takes the form of illicit employment or delays in the payment of salaries and remunerations. While this irregular situation might sometimes be due to financial constraints faced for example by economically unviable media, it might also be done on purpose to maximize control over the journalist.
This leads to a situation in which many journalists remain unprotected, not only vis-à-vis their employers, but also against outside pressure and influence. This has a negative impact on overall professional standards and editorial independence. More importantly, it bears the risk of self-censorship.
Transformation is never an easy process. Improving the media situation in Albania requires clear, broad political commitment as well as the full commitment and participation of journalists themselves and media-related civil society. That is why professional dialogue - such as that foreseen at today's Forum - is needed.
The way ahead is a demanding one, but you can count on the OSCE Presence's support throughout this process. I therefore wish the participants of this forum a fruitful discussion in order to find constructive proposals for viable solutions.