In the Freedom House Freedom and Media in 2019 report that was published last week, Albania scored just 2 out of a possible 4 for the freedom of its media and journalists.
Freedom House is a US-based, US government-funded, non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights. It has been active since 1941. Its annual report tracks the progress of nations in terms of the fourth pillar of democracy- a free and independent media.
Albania is ranked as “partly free”, and as having less than optimum political rights, civil liberties, and overall freedom. The country has also seen a significant drop by seven places in its media freedom last year too, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The results of this year’s report shows that democracy is under threat from populist leaders, resulting in a threat to the independence of the media sector. This “truly dangerous” situation means that the fundamental right to seek and disseminate information through an independent press is under attack. The report notes that most of these attacks from elected leaders in democracies– in other words, people who should be staunch defenders of press freedom.
Instead they have made “explicit attempts” to silence critical media voices whilst bolstering outlets that serve up pro-government coverage. This overall trend has been linked to a decline in democracy on a global scale.
Freedom House note that this devolution is most apparent in Europe which was once a “bastion of well-established freedoms”.
The report also found that populations in European democracies are no longer receiving unbiased news and information. This is not due to journalists being arrested, but rather governmental efforts to throttle independence. This includes, regulatory and financial pressure, smear campaigns, and public denunciations against journalists, and financing to those who tow the party line.
The ultimate goal is to make the media serve those in power, rather than the public.
It is also observed that attacks on the media are usually a warning and a precursor to the erosion of political rights and civil liberties. Assaults on media and independent journalists are often found to link to power grabs by leaders, or an entrenched regimes’ attempt to crush perceived threats to their control.
“While populist leaders in democracies seek to secure and build on their gains by taming the press, established autocratic governments continue to tighten the screws on dissenting voices, as any breach in their media dominance threatens to expose official wrongdoing or debunk official narratives.”
Freedom House also made it clear that the role of a free media is to inform the public and is as important to democracy as free and fair elections.