Over half of Albanian journalists have engaged in self-censorship because they were worried about the repercussions from their employer or editor.
According to data published by the Albanian Helsinki Committee, 52% of journalists surveyed said they feared they would be penalised in some way if they went ahead with a particular story.
Over 33% said they had left a story halfway through after realising it would not or could not be published without consequences for them. Almost half said their editor had directly asked them not to publish a story as it would impact their personal, political, or business interests.
Two issues of censorship described in the report related to the Municipality of Tirana and its Mayor Erion Veliaj. Based on testimonials from journalists, the report explains that the media were not allowed to publish critical news about the municipality of Tirana, nor voices against the demolition of the National Theater.
“I was not allowed to publish critical news about the Municipality of Tirana, the last time was when I made a report about a protest by a group of citizens, and my boss censored the news.”
This is not the first time the municipality has been accused of trampling on press freedom. Not only has Veliaj blocked an Exit journalist and called them a “troll” and “fascist” when they sent questions relating to possibly plagiarized artwork.
Furthermore, Veliaj’s bodyguards have been accused multiple times of using excessive and inappropriate force against journalists when they have tried to ask questions.
The report also found that 8% of journalists said they had been asked to publish fake news, while a further 7.5% had concerns that information they had been asked to publish could have been fake. This level of uncertainty points to a lack of training and research skills that should be addressed both when teaching journalists and educating the public on media literacy.
Overall, the Barometer found that the media freedom environment in Albania declined over the last year, reflecting findings of various international reports.
Key issues included the pending “anti-defamation package”, ready-made news from political parties, and violence against media workers. Other persisting problems include lack of stability in the labor market, informal working conditions, and lack of enforcement of labor laws.
Regarding those making the situation worse, journalists pointed the finger at politicians, public officials, and political parties as the main culprits. Other problematic entities included police, criminals, and media owners themselves.
Impunity continues to reign, with almost all journalists saying they had received verbal or physical threats during their careers. They named police, protestors, politicians, and criminals as those carrying out the attacks. The situation was exacerbated due to the fact no convictions have taken place against perpetrators.
But journalists are also suffering from severe stress, shock, and even mental health problems. More than 88% said they were suffering from high levels of work-related stress. Almost 80% said they had covered events that shocked them psychologically. But just 10% said they sought professional help.
These findings mirror an investigation carried out by Exit in 2020. Interviews revealed how journalists had PTSD following the earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic. Few sought professional help, while some resorted to drinking and smoking more to combat the stress.
But how to solve the situation?
When asked by the Helsinki Committee, 66% said journalists need better training, and a similar number said they need a proper union to protect them. Almost half said media owners should be independent of politics.