From: Alice Taylor
Interview: Aleskander Cipa “Journalists in Albania Must Trust and Support Each other”

Aleksander Cipa is an Albanian journalist and is the head of the Union of Albanian Journalists. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, Exit asked him for his thoughts on the current situation in Albania, and more importantly, the way forward.

How would you describe the overall environment for journalists in Albania during 2019?

It is a difficult environment. 2019 was a tough year and multiple issues that have defined the post-communist era continue to persist. Informality in work relations and problems with financial remuneration for services rendered are still present to a large degree.

Laws that concern journalists’ rights, like the Code of Labor or even the ones regulating basic social and health benefits, are not respected and add to challenges facing the Albanian journalists.

Even more poignant were the problems last year arising from the political sphere, from the governmental regulatory measures, and from the continual verbal conflict and language of the Prime Minister vis-à-vis the Albanian media. The regulatory measures, including the infamous anti-defamation package, are a personal initiative of Prime Minister Rama and have caused much reaction and rejection.

The most important international organizations advocating for journalists’ rights and the freedom of expression supported the reactions of the local journalists and organizations.

Other problems that we saw were threats, blackmail, and even physical violence against journalists and reporters.

Have things got better or worse? Why do you think this is?

Unfortunately, we have seen a deterioration. This is documented also by the periodical reports from important international organizations like Reporters Without Borders, IREX, Freedom House, SEEMO, and more.

First of all, we have seen a deterioration of the country’s mediatic scene, which continues to remain very chaotic.

Albania is characterized by an exaggerated number of media of all kinds. Recruiting principles and criteria for journalists are totally controlled by media administrators and owners, but more than 80% of them are not professionals of the field.

At the same time, journalists are divided and factionalized in their solidarity reactions and in claiming their rights.

How can journalists work to improve the situation for themselves?

First of all, journalists should trust one another and support those who raise and defend issues that affect the entire community.

We should all support and engage in setting up executive auto-regulatory mechanisms. We need to be more engaged in initiatives to amend institutional practices and the regulatory legislation for the media. We should insist for more reporting and investigations on our elected representatives and make sure that the public discourse is not set by the political elite, but by the public.

We should make it so that the public sees the journalists and the media as the important factors that keep in check government overreach and abuses of power.

How can we tackle the issue of media ownership and lack of pluralism/self-censorship?

Changes in legislation are necessary. Our ownership practices should resemble the EU’s and we need improvements in legislation to do that.

This way it would be possible to change the monopoly on frequencies and audiovisual access, currently occupied by four or five families. A change in legislation and practices is needed to guarantee ownership pluralism for audiovisual media outlets. That would create the basis for reducing the opportunities for censure and self-censorship, which mostly derive from the interrelated business interests of media owners with elected officials and powerful politicians.

There is mediatic pluralism in the country, but it is not qualitative nor functional enough to protect and guarantee the fundamental freedoms for individuals and social groups. If the legislation and legal institutions were respected without selectivity and double standards, then we would not have this reality in terms of censure and self-censorship. A reality that, unfortunately, has remained unchanged throughout the years.