Whilst Edi Rama proclaims the recent OSCE ODIHR report is a victory for his government, anyone who has read the report can tell you that is not the case.
On particular recurring theme throughout the report, asides from the partiality of authorities such as the Central Electoral Commission and pressure exerted on state employees to vote else lose their jobs, was the way the media was abused throughout the campaign.
Albania’s state of media freedom has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism over the last 18 months due to a slew of state-linked attacks on journalists, media workers, and portals.
The report echoes many of the criticisms levied at the Rama administration by international media and human rights organisations, as well as the most recent US State Department report.
“The ODIHR noted that “intimidation, harassment and assaults against journalists, while condemned by the authorities, are rarely thoroughly investigated and prosecuted, creating an atmosphere of impunity.”
It was noted that the government’s method of not allowing journalists to film official government events, instead feeding them pre-recorded and edited footage shot by their own media team violated their “fundamental rights”. They added that it stopped voters from being able to form opinions and that the government should give access to journalists as well as clearly label footage that they had filmed.
“The practice used by the Socialist Party and officials of providing the media with footage from official and campaign events whilst restricting their access to them, limited voters’ ability to obtain objective information.”
Also observed is the fact that local media is “dependent on the political alignment and business interests of outlet owners” and that this leads to self-censorship amongst journalists. The report states that platforms such as Top Channel and Klan TV are essentially “lobbying platforms for their owners” and in favour of the Socialist Party. They also criticised a lack of transparency in terms of media ownership and an issue of ownership concentration, noting an instance where one family controlled three of the five national frequencies.
ODIHR also wrote that the General Director of RTSH (the state broadcaster) Thoma Gellci is the former Editor-In-Chief of the Socialist Party newspaper Zeri i Popullit, as well as holding positions within SP administrations. This, according to the ODIHR “raises concerns about the impartiality” of RTSH.
The Audiovisual Media Authority was also criticised over a possible lack of impartiality due to the fact that its members are appointed by parliament. They call for the government to take action against conflicts of interest as well as not awarding senior management positions at the state broadcaster to people like Gellci with “clear political affiliation”.
The AMAs position of power in the recently proposed and widely criticised “anti defamation package” was also highlighted. The rules that would entitle them to remove content from news sites or introduce fines of up to ALL 1 million before any legal remedies take place, have been “widely criticised domestically and internationally” according to the report. Adoption of the current draft would have a “chilling effect on the media”.
Also shamed were the Media Monitoring Board who were late in being formed and in starting their monitoring duties. They failed to provide any clarifications to the media on coverage relating to the opposition, why they chose to only monitor contesting parties, as well as failing to report adequate on media coverage- the whole point of their creation.
Platforms such as Vizion Plus, Top Channel, and TV Klan (who received millions from the government weeks before the campaign started) all had a clear bias and devoted as much as twice the time to the SP, effectively serving as platforms to promote them, according to ODIHR.
All in all the media coverage of the ‘elections’ resulted in a “narrow scope of information about the contestants,” except for Mayor Erion Veliaj and Rama’s favourite SP candidates, which limited the voters’ opportunity to “make an informed choice”.