From: Artan Rama
What Media Privilege? Real Journalists Are Poor!

The wealth declaration of deputy Alfred Peza showed a a very high income, of about 950 million lekë (~€6.9 million). He pretended the earnings were family savings during the time he worked as a journalist and media executive. Another list was published with income earned by well-known journalists. While its validity remains to be confirmed, it has opened up not only technical and legal discussions but also an ethical one. And let us remain there!

Besides the debate about the source of money, the other issue remains on how is the media financed today. How do the financial costs, necessary for the production of news, influence its objectivity?

Now that the dissatisfaction toward traditional media is increasing, this is an urgent question that shouldn’t be avoided. Despite how the news is reported, latest events have created the impression that the market of reporting in Albania holds great profits.

But it couldn’t be further from the truth!

In a distorted and informal market, including the news market, there is only a few people who profit. The only value they hold dear is their commitment to the state power while they neglect their professional commitment to the truth.

Excluding some names, and with some clear distinction, the list of “rich” journalists does not reflect the reality of a bleak media market. Wealthy journalists make for a small group. Their work is well paid because they support certain people and do not care about championing objective report, freedom of expression, and public debate!

In Albania, robbery is a national talent, accountable and honest government is foreign to it, and arrogance and indifference are ubiquitous. Editorials are filled with opinions that in most cases are unnecessary, abusive, or delirious and vane, damaging real journalism. In other words they are active contributor in this crime.

Before we reach definitive conclusions let us peek into the media spectrum from another viewpoint. Let us see those journalists and reporters that remain unknown and tortured trying to earn a wage, part of which goes to pay off bank debts. I am not interested to write an article titled: 24 hours in the life of a reporter, but I will write about a few reporters that risk their earnings but keep their professional integrity!

So I turned to the Court of Tirana.

A minute investigation of court cases over the last three years showed that there were dozens of journalists who sued the media they worked for. All the files were against owners who had unfairly dismissed their employees.

In a free market, the relationship between the employer and the employee is a legal relationship, so this conflict seems normal. But if you look closely, you learn that the work relationship has almost always been discontinued immediately. According to the court files, a majority of workers have no written contract, and have worked informally for many years.

On April 5, 2016, civil case 7818 was filed, where Spartak Kola an investigative reporter, sued News 24 TV. The lawsuit was filed because his work contract was discontinued immediately without valid reasons. The owner had ordered not to publish the tax scandal. But since the courageous journalist didn’t listen, he was laid off. The matter was made known to the office of OSCE and Freedom House and they responded immediately with a statement. This issue was settled after 5 months with an agreement.

Civil case 4362 refers to Vizion Plus TV and journalist Keti Banushi. Her work contract was discontinued immediately without any valid reason. Even though she was working for six years at this television, her formal work relationship had been established only recently. After filing a lawsuit the court of law couldn’t prove the TV misdoings. The journalist has not been paid even though she worked overtime for six years in the demanding investigative newsroom.

Denisa Pasholi started working as a journalist at Vizion Plus TV in 2011. After three years she was suddenly fired. Civil case 6309 was again filed against Vizion Plus TV. But verdict 10328 overthre this claim because her work relationship with Vizion Plus TV couldn’t be confirmed. The claim of the plaintiff couldn’t be verified even though there was filmed proof of TV shows and news reports where the journalist was the central figure in the screen. Unfortunately, while the compensation for the damage wasn’t granted, expenses for the court process were assumed by the plaintiff as well.
The defendant ignored the court process being absent from the court room for most of the sessions.

Arben Mevlani, a well-known news host at TVSh first and Top Channel later was also fired immediately, after ten years of collaboration with Top Channel. The conflict ended up in the court of law and the verdict issued partly favored the plaintiff. Top Channel TV was ordered to pay the plaintiff a financial retribution at the value of sixteen monthly wages.

Alida Tota was the journalist that was dismissed immediately after the investigative report for the death of Ardit Gjoklaj went on air, in the landfill of Sharra, at A1 News TV. The journalist has pressed charges against Ballkan TV Ltd. demanding compensation from the administration of the TV after her contract was dismissed without any valid reason. The civil claim was registered in November in the Court of Tirana but even the first session hasn’t been held. Chances that the issue will be resolved are slim. Sufficient media attention was given to Tota case. International institutions reacted too. But the Media Commission in the Parliament disregarded the request to hold a hearing session in her presence.

The staff of Publicús still goes unpaid to this day despite the contractual agreement established with the television authorities. The staff of the show refused to follow the order issued by the administrator and share holders of Vizion Plus TV. This order demanded that the documentary “Hill of Death” wasn’t shown on air.

The above cases are not the only ones and the list of TV channels that have been charged for firing journalists include Klan, Ora News, AL-SAT, etc.
In most cases, the journalists lose in court for lack of documents or juridical expertise, while they confront the well-paid attorneys of the big media. The situation is desperate, and in almost all cases, the claims of the plaintiff are only monetary, disregarding on the meantime any non-monetary compensation.

I quoted these cases to give evidence that “paradise” in the media is not a rule but the exception to the rule. The media ensure profit for themselves and the interest of a few. But danger doesn’t lie with a corrupted minority and the scorn directed to a disregarded majority, even though huge profits beat the simple reporter. It requires major courage to survive. While devaluing the truth they are buying deceit giving it weight and value.

The most recent comments and discussions about the few well-paid media owners can create the false impression that charitable owners exist in the media. But there is no charity in the attempt to control and steal public services.

The traditional media infrastructure has assumed a position of attack, while trying to save its face. In this battle it needs to protect its soldiers. They are divided in two categories: a minority chosen to serve and the big army of the shunned slaves. And with time, while media power increases, its hierarchy is transformed. A new caste of servants’ servants has been created.

But despite the basic commitments, structures, and servitude the result in the end is always the same, when the financial dependence doesn’t change. This opens another debate.

The question is: how can a journalist earn his living and still be independent? How can it create a public media, as an alternative to the business media?
In the market of goods, information is a costly product. Do journalists own the means to produce it? Today the majority is lonely in this pursuit and without support.

There are several journalist associations that pretend to defend journalists. In reality there is no straight action to protect their work. This submissive situation produces a quiet and invisible self-censorship. So there exist no privileges in the media market!

Official responses produce negative reactions instead of providing protection. They put everyone in the same trash bin, while slyly buying some of them off, in exchange to a disgusting devotion. They create therefore the illusion of free reporting and they mask the truth that is the old robbery covered with new demagogy.