Albania’s Former Chief Enriched Media Ally

Albania’s Former Chief Enriched Media Ally
Sali Berisha used the public advertising budget to funnel contracts to a private TV station that supported his government, data show.
The second article by Besar Likmeta produced as a result of investigative journalism grants awarded by the project SEE Media Observatory via open call in August 2013. 
Albania’s Council of Ministers spent hundreds of thousands of euro in 2008 and 2010 on adverts broadcast on a private TV station owned by Aleksander Franaj, a self-proclaimed supporter of former Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
FOTO: Albania former Prime Minister Sali Berisha (By: Hektor Pustina/AP)
Balkan Insight can reveal that the contracts with TV Klan formed part of a broad scheme to enrich pro-government media, which ran during the eight years that the centre-right Democratic Party held power.
An article published by MediaObservatory on January 6 (by Balkan Insight on December 20) showed that the Defence Ministry in the last two years alone awarded €580,000 in ads to two advertising agencies linked with Frangaj, Promo Sh.p.k and Zoom Events.
Big Advertisers Subvert Albanian Media FreedomThe first article by Besar Likmeta produced as a result of investigative journalism grants awarded by the project SEE Media Observatory via open call in August 2013.
The Albanian media faces a battle to defend its independence in an environment where corporate and government advertising effectively dictates the rules.
New data obtained from the treasury department of the Finance Ministry show that the general directorate of police was equally generous to Promo agency.
Apart from Promo and Zoom Events, Frangaj, owner of Media 6, the parent company of TV Klan, used at least three other companies to siphon off government advertising funds.
Although the government adverts amounted to less than 5 per cent of Albania’s total TV advertising market, they served an important purpose for Berisha’s government.
They rewarded a TV station whose editorial policy clearly favoured its policies while the messages themselves propagandized the Democratic Party’s alleged achievements.       
TV Klan did not respond to a request by Balkan Insight to answer the allegations.  
As editor in the early Nineties of the newspaper Koha Jone, Frangaj was a foe of Berisha, President of Albania from 1992 to 1997.
In 1994, he was even imprisoned for a short period, after falling foul of Berisha and his Democratic Party.  
However, once Berisha regained power in 2005 as Prime Minister, Frangaj cultivated close relations, professing his support publicly.
TV Klan is one of Albania two private national broadcasters, together with Top Channel TV.
Documents obtained by Balkan Insight through a freedom of information request show that the former premier awarded two contracts for the production of TV adverts to two companies linked to Frangaj. The adverts were mostly then aired on TV Klan.
On August 18, 2008, the Council of Minister signed a contract for the production of the two adverts for 590,000 lek (€4,220) with Zoom Entertainment Sh.p.k, a company owned by Eptan Lohja, TV Klan’s marketing manager who also sits on the board of its parent company, Media 6.
The ads comprised a message from Prime Minister Berisha and an advert promoting the government’s achievements in fighting corruption.
Of the 49,706,564 lek (€355,555) spent on broadcasting the adverts, TV Klan received the lion’s share, 38,461,600 lek (€275,119).
By comparison, Top Channel TV, which took a more critical stance toward the government, received only 3,238,264 lek (€23,163), with the rest going to the public broadcaster, TVSH.
On May 17, 2010 the Council of Minister signed another contract with Promo agency, owned by Eduart Frangaj, Aleksander’s brother, for the production of an advert marking the 20th anniversary of the eruption of anti-communist protests on July 2, 1990.
The protest in the northern city of Shkodra, in which four men were killed, marked the beginning of the end of the Communist regime and led to the Democrats taking power in 1992.   
Of the 10,000,000 lek (€71,530) spent on the advert, TV Klan again received the lion’s share, 5,450,130 lek (€38,985).
Top Channel TV, a broadcaster with equal ratings to those of TV Klan, received only 972,750 lek (€6,958) for the advert.
Meanwhile, data obtained by Balkan Insight from Finance Ministry show that from June 2012 until the end of 2013 alone, five companies owned by or linked with Aleksander Frangaj - Media 6, Media 66, Promo, Zoom Events and ABC News - received at least 154 million (€1,101,575) in public adverts.
The Defence Ministry was the biggest spender, responsible for 82.2 million lek. (€584,000), followed by the general directorate of police with 49,500,000 lek (€354,077).
The new Socialist government, which took office last September, has since referred both former defence minister Arben Imami and the former head of police, Hysni Burgaj, to the general prosecutor’s office, which has announced a probe into Imami.   
Imami, at the defence post from 2009 to 2013, is accused of conducting illegal tenders and of abuse of office. If found guilty, he could face seven years in jail.
Imami has denied wrongdoing and called the charges filed against him politically motivated.
“It was an act of personal revenge,” he said on December 9. “Edi Rama has crossed a political and ethical red line but his threats scare no one, much less me,” Imami added.
Published on Balkaninsight.

This article has been produced with the financial assistance of the project South East European Media Observatory.

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