Head of the Albanian faction of the Association of European Journalists, Arber Hitaj has spoken of the difficulties faced by the country’s 6000 journalists.
Invited to RTV Ora last night, Hitaj said there are six major media outlets that have been forced to cut jobs and reduce salaries. He added that some newspapers that were forced to cease printing, will not start again when the pandemic is over.
Hitaj said that removing VAT on advertising, or at least reducing it would be helpful for the media in the country.
Earlier this month, a letter was sent from the Albanian Association of European Journalists to the President, Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, Representatives of the EU, Coe, and OSCE and leader of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha.
The letter raised the issue of redundancies and financial difficulties being experienced by TV, print, and online media. It noted that this was happening during a time when the work of the journalist was extremely important and they were “at the forefront of reporting”. Journalists were risking their lives in a dignified mission of informing citizens, said the letter.
It called on the addresses to ask for the creation of an economic support package for the media. This should start as soon as possible, they said.
Only the President and the Ambassador of Sweden Elsa Hastad responded.
“We need a qualitative and strong media in all times but perhaps even more in difficult times. We need you to provide us with accurate information, we need you to hold civil servants, like myself, institutions and politicians accountable.”
Ambassador Hastad expressed her concerns about the threats and challenges to democracy and the media in many countries during the pandemic. In this context, she offered her embassy’s strong support to the Albanian media, in line with the Swedish government’s recent foreign policy initiative “Drive for Democracy”.
Prime Minister Edi Rama had previously refused to assist media companies following the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The media are big businesses, the government has made sovereign guarantees available, the media get loans and pay their employees. Concerning journalists is another issue. As long as there is talk of a lack of profit or commercial emissions, it is not the job of the government.”
Media of all sizes are suffering due to a lack of advertising revenue and restrictions imposed on their work. This comes at a time when arguably they have more work than ever, to keep the general public informed.