From: Andi Bushati
How Media Owners Are Trying To Steal Public Funds

The owners of private television channels have emerged from their clandestine meetings in the Prime Ministry with Edi Rama, to show themselves in technicolor in a meeting with the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA). In both cases, their concern was the same: “How to rob the public in order to fill their family businesses’ coffers.”

Their demands are now known. They are simple.

A double increase of the tax that Albanians pay for the public TV channel, half of which will be divided among Sandri, Vjollca, Irfan, Ylli, Carlo, the owners of Albanian private television channels.

These owners, most of whom use public property – television channel frequencies and licences – to misinform and spread government propaganda in favor of a privileged class, who change direction as soon as the government changes and bury the truth, now demand to be paid by Albanians, pretending they didn’t create their TV channels to grab tenders and build skyscrapers, but to serve the people.

One cannot think of a greater mockery. However, as I’ve already written about this, in this piece I would like to focus on the ridiculous excuses that are being used to justify this obvious robbery.

Reading the AMA announcement, one could notice a few key arguments that attempted to prove why these private businesses (one could even say family businesses, seeing as every TV channel in the country has become the venture of a single family that only employs spouses, sons, and siblings in its top positions) have to be funded with our money.

The first point argued that these channels had additional costs as a result of digitization. The second claimed that they would invest increasingly in investigative journalism. The third argued that the public’s trust needed to be nurtured. The fourth argued that structures to fight fake news needed to be built.

If one divides these arguments into two groups, they claim to want to take taxpayer money to improve the public’s perception of television channels, and more comprehensive and trustworthy information.

Both of these arguments are ridiculous.

The second one is a joke, because providing quality journalism, including investigative programs and independent research, is not a favor to the public, it’s the duty of the media. In order to fulfill this duty, these TV channels make use of public property – television frequencies and licences that are not granted to just anyone. If they do not fulfill their duty, they must give them back. To ask for additional taxpayer money in order to meet your obligations, is entirely absurd.

The first argument fares no better. Better quality video and audio are advantageous to their business. They cannot ask the public to pay for those. Otherwise, other businesses, like those in the food industry, would also ask for taxpayer money to package their meat better or make their milk last longer.

However, the problem rests not so much with the excuses they use, as with what they are preparing to do. This act, inspired and supported by Edi Rama, is not a bit less vile than all the scandalous tenders, concessions, and public-private partnerships that have been awarded in the last five years. The drive behind all of them is the enrichment of a tiny class to the detriment of the majority of Albanians.

Coming from a government that came to power claiming to represent the interests of those 95% of Albanians who are impoverished on a daily basis by the remaining 5%, this is a scandal.

However, when all the country’s mainstream media, who are supposed to defend the public’s interests, becomes part of this farce, then the scandal becomes a tragedy.

This article first appeared on Translation by Exit.