In a crowded hall attended by nearly 250 media professionals, the EU–Western Balkans Media Days, a regional meeting organized by the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) Johannes Hahn, is off to a flying start in Tirana on Thursday November 9. Recognizing the importance of press freedom, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama creates a certain unease by opening this series of presentations dedicated to a sector in need of independence. His very strange inaugural tweet – “Words kill first, bullets follow,” a paraphrase from journalist Adam Michnik – has failed to erase the memory of his recent insults to the profession, quite the opposite.
With the officials gone, the main debate of the morning, led by the regional correspondent of The Economist, Tim Judah, follows the same line: a long, quiet river of conventional statements. It took almost an hour for the political correctness to shattered, following the intervention of Branko Čečen of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Serbia (CINS). Standing in black T-shirts urging the European Union to do more – #EU do more –, about 15 journalists recall the dramatic situation of the independent press in the Serbia of Aleksandar Vučić .
A liberating intervention. The grievances of the journalists, passed over in silence, will maintain the continuation of the debate. Drawing a very dark picture of the region, they interrupt many observers little aware of the situation. “The Twitter account of one of the most critical portals of the Rama government, Exit.al, was blocked at this meeting. How do you justify that?” Directly addressed by Albanian journalist Alida Karakushi, the Director of the Western Balkans at the DG NEAR, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, is given a hard time.
Discussions between professionals continue in the corridors. “Endlessly repeating these debates about the digital era or the transition does not solve the problems of journalists.” Like this Kosovar editor, the actors present have a hard time containing their anger. “This kind of conference is money thrown out the window, it could be used so much better elsewhere…” Embarrassed, Commission officials recognize: “You have to help us to better use the funds we spend here.”
“Journalists earn €300 a month and are fired by a simple text message.” To conclude these days, the head of the EU delegation in Albania, Romana Vlahutin, portrays a realistic portrait of the journalistic profession in the country. Not sure whether this sudden awareness appeases the annoyance of the profession. In his final statement, Johannes Hahn states that “the media can help build bridges rather than deepen divisions.” The leaders of the region will appreciate that.
Originally published by the Courrier des Balkans, translated by Exit.