With the media in Albania pressurized and manipulated by political and business interests, journalists struggle to be impartial in an environment in which there is little employment protection and encounter problems getting paid the wages they have earned.
A case in point is one of the country’s most prominent media outlets, the Albanian Public Broadcaster, RTSH, which has struggled for years to transform itself into a reliable and professional station but has not even been able to choose its own General Director.
Florian Raunig, the head of OSCE Presence in Albania, says this has contributed to a situation in which the RTSH has major difficulties in fulfilling its public-service role in providing reliable, unbiased information, educational programming and quality entertainment.
“Political will – and a commitment to the quality and independence of the media – is a prerequisite for successful transformation. Unfortunately, there have been serious delays in this process. The long-delayed appointment of an impartial, professional General Director is a case in point,” Raunig told BIRN.
The 11-member board of the Albanian Public Broadcaster, elected by MPs in May, has failed in several attempts to appoint a new director because the media law adopted in 2013 requires a candidate to get seven votes to be elected.
Six of the board members are chosen by the left-wing majority in parliament and five by the right-wing opposition, and the votes for candidates for a new General Director have been split along political lines, leaving the RTSH with no elected chief.
Prime Minister Edi Rama has vowed that if a new General Director is not elected by the end of January, than then the media law to require a simple majority will be changed allow a simple majority to decide who gets the job.
When asked about Rama’s idea, Raunig said that the impartiality of the new director is more important than the mechanism by which he or she is selected.
“The most important thing is to ensure the professional qualifications and impartiality of the new RTSH director. Whoever is selected for this position must demonstrate professional competence, personal integrity and sound commitment to supporting the RTSH’s transformation into a true public service broadcaster,” he said.
The last European Commission progress report for Albania, released in October 2015 said that “media continued to be used as a tool to promote political and private interests” in the country, with journalists working without employment contracts or ones which can be terminated arbitrarily.
The OSCE has also been outspoken about the problems faced by journalists and the poor media environment in the country.
During her last visit to Albania in May 2015 in Albania, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s media freedom representative, called on politicians and business owners to stop manipulating the media and “let journalists and professionals do their job professionally and independently for the benefit of the Albanian public”.
Raunig said that many journalists suffer from a lack of protection, not only from their employers, but also from the outside pressures.
“There seems to be a widespread practice in Albania of weakening the professional independence of journalists, keeping them dependent on their employers in violation of legal provisions. This often takes the form of illicit employment or delays in the payment of salaries and remunerations,” he said.
Supporting judicial reform
The OSCE, alongside various other international organisations and foreign governments, has been backing a proposed overhaul of Albania’s corruption-riddled justice system.
Raunig believes that the reform is an opportunity to fundamentally reshape the Albanian judicial system to better serve citizens and to tackle rampant corruption.
“The comprehensive reform package was prepared by national and international experts and assessed by the [Council of Europe’s] Venice Commission. It is now up to Albanian politics to take the next step: to come to an agreement in order to give free way for the implementation phase,” he said.
Raunig believes the implementation of the reform through new regulations, procedures, management systems, recruitment criteria and thorough training for staff will be crucial.
“The manner in which the reform package is implemented is essential for the sustainability and the success of the reform process. It goes hand in hand with a change in attitudes: establishing a culture of responsibility and accountability, countering impunity and consolidating the respect for the rule of law in all layers of society,” the ambassador said.
The OSCE Presence in Albania is working on several programmes in the justice sector, such as the development of the Probation Service to enable prison reform and the Justice without Delays programme, which has improved the efficiency of court proceedings to give better access to justice, particularly for ordinary people.
It is helped Albania with its decentralization reform. Last year the country completed the reorganization of its local government structure, creating 61 new municipalities after merging 373 smaller ones. The aim was to decentralise power and enhance local accountability.
“This will have a direct impact on citizens’ quality of life,” Raunig said.
But the decentralization process is not only a question of amending legislation, Raunig cautioned - sufficient financial and human resources are also necessary for local governments to deliver the services that people need.