On Tuesday in Tirana, 13 European news agencies met to discuss cooperation against fake news and media bias. The conference was held by the Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA) and was attended by heads of new agencies who highlighted the necessity of coping with and counteracting the global phenomenon of fake news.
The ATA stated that due to the prevalence of social media and other new technologies, the rapid and confusing spread of fake news was difficult to halt and thus infringed basic human freedoms such as the right to information. Those involved put a great emphasis on the role that news agencies should take in handling the matter.
At the end of the event, the participating agencies agreed to sign the ‘Tirana Declaration’ which would encourage the agencies to act in unity, as well as to observe the following principles:
- Direct cooperation between news agencies for news verification and timely discovery of fake news.
- Develop effective tools and rules for empowering Internet users and journalists to tackle disinformation.
- Promote trustworthy media and education of users in navigating the digital environment.
- Enhance transparency of online news involving the consistent development of professional journalism.
- Protection of the diversity and sustainability of the real news media ecosystem.
The declaration also urges all news agencies, no matter if they are state or privately funded, as well international associations of news agencies, to join in adhering to the resolution.
The initiators are: ATA from Albania, ANA MPA from Greece, HINA from Croatia, BTA from Bulgaria, AZERTAC from Azerbaijan, PAP from Poland, AGERPRES from Romania, TASR from Slovakia, UKRINFORM from Ukraine, CNA from the Greek Cypriot administration, FENA from Bosnia and Herzegovina, TANJUG from Serbia, and Anadolu Agency from Turkey.
The irony of this agreement and its title, the “Tirana Declaration” is not lost on those who are aware of the deeply ingrained issues in Albania surrounding propaganda, fake news, and biased reporting.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Albania ranks number 75 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index beaten by countries such as Niger, Malawi, Haiti, Senegal, and Botswana. In addition to this, in a report between RSF and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) which was published in March 2018, Albania’s media is facing a dire number of problems. Issues include the fact that most of the main media portals (90%) are owned by individuals with strong political connections and share over half of the local audience. According to the report, this poses a significant risk to media pluralism in the country.
In addition to this, independent outlets and journalists regularly come under verbal and physical abuse from politicians, including the Prime Minister who has been quoted as calling journalists ignorant’, ‘poison’, ‘garbage bin’, ‘scandalmongers’, ‘charlatans’, and ‘public enemies’. Some commentators have opined that the behind the colorful language used against the media by Albanian politicians stands a ‘strategy of abuse,’ which aims to derail public attention from scandals by providing a readymade TV spectacle. Others see it as an attempt to delegitimize the ever-shrinking pool of critical journalists and outlets, which are not controlled directly from oligarchs and indirectly by Rama, Meta, Berisha and their cronies.
I wonder what effect this Declaration will have, if any, on the prevalence of fake news, biased reporting, and downright abusive treatment of journalists and social commentators that dare to deviate from the politically mandated curve.