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The Media Law Situation in Albania after the Communist Regime Breakdown

After almost 20 years of struggle for democracy and its consolidation, Albanian media has found itself in a situation when there is freedom of the press but no free press.[1]  The activity of media businesses can hardly be called transparent, and there is little or no state control. In addition, there are problems with legislation, its implementation, the obtaining of data on the media and their transparency and reliability. Market analysis is by no means a familiar practice in Albania, and media businesses operate in the mist, with no data on their efficiency, apart from gut feelings. This chapter aims to provide information and analysis of the existing legislation on media ownership, its implementation, the media landscape, its ownership structure, and foreseeable consequences.

1.1. Media Law

Since the early nineties, after the fall of communism, Albanian media, like the rest of society, have been faced with a freedom never experienced before, and with equally unfamiliar problems. The advent of a new political system brought about the emergence of new media and, consequently, the need to regulate this chaotic situation.

1.1.1. Press Law

The Parliament elected in 1992 adopted the Law on the Press. The initiative to draft such a law came from the Government, and owing to the previous legislative vacuum in this sector, all eyes were turned towards other countries’ experience. In this context the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation took the initiative in presenting the Government with examples of such a law as implemented by three German states, with one of these being eventually chosen. The Albanian law was modeled after the German state of Westphalia law and there was little effort to adjust it to the Albanian context. The input of the persons most affected by this law, namely the media community, was not considered an option at all while drafting the law. As a result, the media community soon faced what they considered to be repressive legislation. This law was annulled entirely by another legislature in 1997, and a new law came into effect. At present the print media is regulated by the Law on the Press,[2] which comprises only the following vague and quite general statement: “The press is free. Freedom of the press is protected by law.”

After the emergence of political pluralism, party newspapers, which had developed during that era, prevailed for more than five years in the market. In 1995, however, independent newspapers overtook the party press, for the first time ranking first in circulation in Albania. There are now more daily independent newspapers than there are party dailies. Among periodicals, independents also outnumber those linked to political parties. As for ownership, the press is overwhelming financed by money from within Albania.

The Albanian press appears today to be more of an extension of politics than a representation of public opinion. It focuses on conflict, as Albanian politics does.

The Albanian press, with few exceptions, offers more political opinion than information, according to the United Nations Office of Development Programs in Tirana. It is best characterized as propagandistic, the office said. The lack of objective information and abundance of political debate is apparent in both the party press and in the independent press.[3]

The main financial problems for newspapers stem from Albania’s general economic condition. Papers lack a proper distribution network and must pay high printing costs. Moreover, low advertising revenues and poor salaries, especially in rural areas, have limited circulation for the dailies. This has produced fierce competition for readers among the dailies.[4]

Political parties, trade unions, and various societies and groups publish their own newspapers or magazines and competition with commercial publications is very keen. An estimated 200 publications are available, including daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and pamphlets.

The difficult economic situation, and readers’ distrust of the press, again resulted in a significant drop in newspaper sales during 2000. The total daily circulation of all newspapers declined from about 65,000 copies to less than 50,000 copies. This came after a drop in 1999, from 75,000 to 65,000 copies.

In a recent survey, the Albanian Media Institute found that 60 percent of persons interviewed believed that the media stirred up trouble in the country, and only 23 percent said that the media played a positive role. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they preferred to get their news from the private electronic media. The opening of many new private radio and television stations is seen as another reason for the drastic drop in newspaper circulation.[5]

There is no subscription system or home delivery in Albania, and even newspapers aspiring to nationwide readership are distributed only in the cities. With about 60 per cent of the population living in the countryside, it can be concluded that more than half of the population has no access to newspapers.

The Parliamentary Commission on Media, the journalistic community, legal advisors,  and other interested persons have at certain points since 1997 debated the need for a detailed press law and the potential shape and effect it can have on media development, and  thus on the consolidation of democracy. There was a debate on one such bill in 2001, in which  many media representatives refused to participate, considering that the bill provided an  over-regulated media with considerable potential for restrictions. The bill provided for the establishment of an Order of Journalists that would serve as a regulator of the media community and its activities, a concept which was strongly rejected as it was considered a structure that must be established according to the free will of journalists, and not engineered by the Parliament or legally obliged to report to the Parliament. According to this provision all journalists would be obliged to be members of this Order and to adhere to its regulation.[6]

The trend of laissez faire in the field of journalism triumphed over the other interest groups at the time, preferring media self-regulation instead of too much regulation by the Parliament. Thus, with the existing extremely and vague law on press, the print media seems to enjoy a greater freedom than in the early nineties, but at the same time working on grounds that leave ample room for activities that are little, or not at all, controlled and much speculated about. The process of drafting a new law on the press is ongoing.

1.1.2. Broadcast Media Regulation

In contrast to the print media, the broadcast media is regulated by a fairly detailed Law on Public and Private Radio and Television. In order to guarantee its own implementation, the law provides for a regulatory body, the National Council of Radio and Television (NCRT), which is supposed to be independent.

The NCRT is elected by the Parliament for a maximum of two five-year terms. Composed of seven members, one of whom is proposed by the President and the other six shared equally between the opposition and the majority,[7] this body acts both as the licensing authority and as the supervisor of legality in private broadcasting. The law provides the NCRT with the authority to transform the general rules provided by the law itself into further specific obligations for broadcasting operators.

Considering that Albania has more than the usual number of stations for its size, the picture seems bright for private electronic media in Albania. The boom occurred during the troubled months of 1997 after the collapse of the pyramid schemes in which thousands of investors, most of them ordinary people, lost their savings. At the time, many Albanians were so heavily invested that other types of commerce ground to a halt when the schemes were exposed as phony.[8]

Albania has 68 local television stations, 3 national television stations, 2 satellite televisions and 50 local cable televisions. With regard to radio stations, there are 48 local radio stations and 2 national ones.[9]

The National Council of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NCRT) that award broadcasting licenses found that several broadcasters failed to pay for their licenses or abide by the regulations. In 1999, the government established new licensing and oversight procedures to promote a more stable broadcasting environment.

The NCRT made licenses available to existing local television broadcasters that were operating previously in an unregulated climate. In December 2000, the NCRT licensed two national television stations, 45 local television stations, 31 local radio stations, and one national radio station. The awards by the government council immediately brought charges of official corruption and political favoritism from unsuccessful applicants.[10]

Since the elections of 1997, private radio stations can broadcast news and information without fear of being shut down by the authorities. Political bias, however, is pervasive in programming.

Many stations have begun upgrading equipment, installing stronger transmitters and positioning their antennas for better market penetration. However, the stations still need assistance in marketing and management, training of journalists, and gaining access to better technology.[11]

The state-owned Albanian Radio and Television (RTSH) is the only public media in the country. Although RTSH has made strides toward impartiality, its news still is dominated by extended reports of government “achievements” and stories about official visits abroad. RTSH still is transforming itself into a public service broadcaster.

Foreign broadcast media–especially Albanian-language broadcasts on FM from the Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation and from Deutsche Welle on short wave–continue to be an important source of professionally prepared information for a large audience.[12]

The state-owned Albanian Telegraph Agency (ATA) is by far the largest news agency in the country.

The Article is Written by Xhafer Rakipllari, MA in Roads to Democracy

[1]. Interview with Prec Zogaj, Indexmedia, no 1, 2002, p.39

[2]. Law on Press, 8239, 1997

[3]. “Human Development Report, Albania 1996.”

[4]. Albanian Media Monitor”, Institute for Journalism in Transition. Vol. 2, No. 8. April 17, 1998.

[5]. U.S. Department of State. ” 2000 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Albania.”

Available URL: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/eur/index.cfm?docid=668

[6]. Draft Law on Press, 2001

[7]. Law on Press, 8239, 1997

[8]. Mici, Sokol. “Report on the current state of private broadcast media in Albania.”International Center for Journalists”. December 1997.

[9]. National Council of Radio and Television Website. http://www.kkrt.gov.al

[10]. IJNet: ” Two private TV stations, one radio station in Albania receive national coverage licenses.”                                      Available URL: http://www.ijnet.org/Archive/2000/11/17-69495.html

[11].  “Albanian Media Monitor.” Institute for Journalism in Transition

[12]. “Report on the situation of the Albanian media during the run-up to the parliamentary elections of 29 June-6 July 1997.” Council of Europe.



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