The Albanian government has announced that it will give up to EUR 4 million to several media broadcasters including Top Channel, TV Klan, Digitalb, and Vizion Plus.
The decision, taken by the government on April 4th is supposed to compensate historical national broadcasters and main digital broadcasters for making the switch from analog to digital broadcasting.
The Government decision states that operators with experience in digital broadcasts shall receive up to EUR 2 million for partial coverage of the costs of technological changes. Those considered as national historic private operators will also receive up to EUR 2 million for partial coverage of investments made to change their transmission structure from analogue to digital.
The total amount given to each broadcaster will be calculated on a percentage of the amount of tax paid by each operator.
According to the law, those set to benefit from the government payout include Top Channel, Vizion Plus, TV Klan, and Digitalb.
The decision to award such sums of money right before the elections has been criticised by local media. Concerns have been raised that the allocation of such large sums of money to the country’s main media houses could constitute as buying favourable coverage at a time when the government is vying for votes, as well as facing mounting local and international criticism.
Following a less than favourable report on media freedom from international watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Prime Minister Edi Rama called the media “trashcans” once again, and insisted that the media is free to report as they want and is not “blackmailed”.
The 2019 World Press Index saw Albanian drop seven places, placing it as one of the lowest scoring in the Western Balkans and Europe.
The report detailed not only threats and intimidation tactics used against journalists but also the fact that “broadcast media is concentrated in the hands of a few big businessmen”. According to RSF, it was also found that regulations and laws were manipulated in favour of government interests and self-censorship in the industry is rife.
The latest news that a handful of media owners will receive millions of euros in taxpayers money, directly from the government, will do little to reassure those who have doubts about Albanian media plurality.