SCiDEV calls for collective commitment towards an enabling environment for independent and quality journalism

SCiDEV calls for collective commitment towards an enabling environment for independent and quality journalism

SCiDEV calls for collective commitment towards an enabling environment for independent and quality journalism

On April 3, Tirana, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Forum on Information & Democracy, in partnership with the Albanian Media Council, organized the conference on “The Right to Information,” which gathered journalists’ community and media freedom organizations. The event aimed to break down the main challenges journalists and independent media organizations face and explore possible avenues to strengthen the right to information in Albania.

The discussions focused on the lived experiences of journalists and media outlets in Albania, challenges regarding freedom of expression, safety of journalists, media sustainability, and how to advance trustworthy journalism also in the digital space. They also highlighted the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) and its potential benefits in the Albanian context.

Ms. Blerjana Bino, our Executive Director and representative of Safe Journalists Network in Albania, was invited as a key speaker on the panel “Journalism and Press Freedom in Albania” and also led another panel discussion as a moderator on the topic “Media sustainability and trustworthy journalism in Albania.”

Ms. Bino, key remarks during the conference:

“Only in March 2024 have we seen four serious cases of violations of journalists’ safety in Albania: a coordinated vicious smear campaign against investigative journalist Ola Xama, life-threatening online messages to journalist and activist Isa Myzyraj, inappropriate behavior of the Prime Minister during an impromptu press conference towards journalist Ambrozia Meta, and a coordinated campaign to remove the content of CitizenChannel.

Although actual attacks on the physical safety and lives of journalists and their kin remain limited in Albania, they face pressures, intimidation, and threats that affect their independent reporting, including defamation lawsuits and SLAPPs. Journalists’ safety is threatened by weak implementation of labor codes, gender-specific challenges in the media sector, digital safety concerns, and copyright issues.

All this against the backdrop of a media ecosystem characterized by a symbiotic relationship between powerful economic and political vested interests, high concentration of media ownership, limited transparency, the concentration of public information exacerbated by intensive propaganda, and a systemic approach to make professional journalism obsolete, restricted access to information and struggles with information integrity. Additionally, self-regulation and self-organization remain limited. Currently, there are several initiatives addressing media freedom. The Government of Albania has prepared the “Roadmap for the Rule of Law” and the “Roadmap for the Functioning of Democratic Institutions”, both addressing, among other priorities, the protection of journalists and the freedom of the media. This portfolio coordinated by the Ministry of Justice, will now be coordinated by the State Minister for EU Integration/Chief Negotiator. We urge the Chief Negotiator to increase transparency towards the public, civil society, and media and set up a Transparency Mechanism and a Coordinator for the Right to Information. Secondly, a working group led by the Deputy Minister of Interior is being established to approximate the Digital Service Act. We urge full transparency in the group composition and inclusive dialogue with stakeholders. In addition, we are concerned about the hasty procedure for setting up a special parliamentary committee on disinformation requested by the Socialist Party in early April. Following legal changes in 2023, the Audiovisual Media Authority has again announced new changes to the audiovisual media law, and changes in the Penal Code are also expected in 2024.

However, the effectiveness of these initiatives depends on their execution with transparency, coordination, and inclusiveness. Ensuring these reforms are not just top-down mandates but involve active consultation and engagement with media professionals, civil society, interest groups, and the broader public is essential. This collaborative approach is necessary to craft policies that are not only compliant with EU norms but are also resonant and effective within the context of Albania’s media landscape.

“It’s a journey that requires a collective commitment to ensuring that the media not only survives but thrives.”

SCiDEV, as an independent think-tank, will continue to work and advocate for media freedom and the safety of journalists in Albania, outlining the following key actions and recommendations to the involved and relevant stakeholders:

  • Improving media freedom in Albania must prioritize inclusiveness, local ownership, and genuine consultation with relevant stakeholders such as media organizations, civil society, and other interest groups.
  • The EU accession negotiations serve as a driving force for reform. The measures anticipated by the Government of Albania in the above-mentioned Roadmaps necessitate a steadfast institutional commitment, alignment with international standards, and an all-inclusive and transparent consultation process on legal and regulatory changes. To build trust and credibility, it is essential to ensure transparency and a participatory approach.
  • It’s not just about meeting benchmarks or ticking boxes; it’s about fundamentally transforming the media landscape into one where freedom, integrity, and pluralism are ideals and lived realities. The promise of EU integration should not be seen as an end but as a means to elevate media freedom to new heights.
  • Advancing digitization of the media sector, including enforcing data protection legislation, strengthening digital security, countering gender disinformation, and exploring innovative models for sustainable media financing.

Specific recommendations:

  • Ensure the complete decriminalization of defamation to protect freedom of expression, aligning with the recommendations of the Council of Europe and the European Union.
  • Ensure the establishment of a clear legal definition for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) following the approval of the European Parliament of the SLAPP directive in early 2024.
  • Strengthen media proactive transparency about ownership and funding sources, avoiding conflict of interests and potential biases.
  • Strengthen self-regulation mechanisms and support the journalist community in self-organising.
  • The Criminal Code shall be revised to provide special legal protection for media workers who are hit or threatened because of their duty.
  • It is crucial not to normalize or accept any form of blackmail practices in the media sector. Journalists’ associations, CSOs, and other interested actors must take a strong stance against such practices and ensure that they are not tolerated or enabled. This includes implementing strict codes of ethics and conduct for journalists and media outlets, providing education and training on ethical journalism practices, and establishing mechanisms to investigate and address any allegations of blackmail or other unethical behavior.

The main concerns throughout the discussions held at the Conference on the Right to Information remained the concentration of media ownership and political pressures on journalists.

Mr Antoine Bernard, Director of Advocacy and Assistance at RSF, highlighted in his remarks that Albania has unfortunately not made measurable progress regarding media freedom.

RSF’s stance on the matter concluded that Albania’s integration into the EU provides momentum for fostering trustworthy journalism in the country, which is ranked 96th out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, making media in Albania fragile in the face of political influences and lack of mechanisms that ensure the safety of journalists.

The EU Ambassador to Albania, Mr Silvio Gonzato, underlined that media freedom has a vital role in our societies and encouraged Albania to seize the current momentum in the EU integration process to make bold progress in media freedom and freedom of expression.

To read the full press release about the event please click here. Click here for the news recording from the Voice of America. To read the press release issued by RSF after the conference, please click here.