Flash report 3: Albania

Flash report 3: Albania
Journalism ranging from conformism to engaged reporting*
Current trend indicates that media are often sandwiched between politics and business, facing constant challenges, as well as making important achievements. Some of the challenges are the poor organization of journalists, lack of solidarity, slow development for investigative journalism, weak public support for media freedom, and labour relations. Faced with these challenges and the financial crisis, Albanian media more often than not resort to self-censorship, while there are also attempts to keep professionalism alive.
In recent years a new trend has emerged in Albanian journalism: groups of investigative reporters have organised in order to publish stories that might not be welcome in traditional media to online portals. Several such initiatives have been supported by foreign donors, such as Soros Foundation and USAID. In times when foreign donation programmes generally shrink, sustainability of such investigative platforms raises doubts. It seems that this example is illustrative of the overall state of the profession: clientelist editorship which pushes engaged journalists to seek alternative spaces, and indispensable international support in light of economic hardship for both media outlets and journalists as employees.
Professional self-organisation of journalists
Journalists have always found it difficult to organize themselves, both in terms of protecting and advancing their rights and in uniting in the name of professional goals and identity. Rather than being organized on their own initiative, the journalist associations usually start under the umbrella of donors or international organisations. Most of them showed weak activity, slowly faded away with lack of funding and enthusiasm, leaving no lasting impact.
The journalists and media outlets have failed to adopt formal guidelines for their own conduct. Still, the media community has raised concerns on ethical issues and seems interested in improving their practices. However, due to economic factor ethics is the last on priority list and often considered a luxury. The author of the drafted but never adopted Code of Ethics finds: “The work conditions and the level of salaries are the main factors that affect implementation of the code of ethics.”
In addition, financial crisis has led to a continuous downsizing of staff, especially in print media. The market pressure and competition also do not help. “We as media are lacking the common rules for the game. If one media violates ethical rules, it ruins everything, as it creates a chain reaction. I made a decision not to broadcast a story, but my rival did broadcast it and gained audience. So, next time I will think twice about this decision,” a television editor (who wanted to remain anonymous) confessed.
Journalists are weak vis-à-vis management and ownership of the media outlets. They suggest that if a journalist took an initiative to install ethical mechanisms or raise their voices about salaries or other problems, they would face the pressure from owners and could even be fired. Some journalists also mention the tendency of journalists “to settle” rather than fight for their profession. An experienced journalist, Armand Shkullaku of Shekulli newspaper, holds that some journalists actually prefer it this way, taking advantage of the pressure from the owner in order to escape doing their job.
Journalists’ job security or lack thereof
According to reports of the trade union of journalists, most of the journalists work without contracts or with formal contracts, which can be interrupted in an arbitrary way. 
Forms of employment for journalists:
After union lobbying in recent years the major commercial outlets have agreed to sign contracts, but they are by the rule drafted unilaterally by the media management. As a journalist illustrated: “While the contract demands that I notify the owner three months ahead if I’m leaving the job, I can be fired the very next day and do not enjoy the same notification period. There are even cases when the owner can pressure other media outlets to not hire you. So, work contracts are a significant pressure on journalists.”
The most significant problem for journalists is reoccurring delay in salary payments. In September 2013 the Union declared that “in the last six months journalist salaries have been delayed in 75% of media outlets in the country for a period of two to six months.” In addition, there have been cases when journalists discovered their employer hasn’t been paying contributions for social insurance.
Pervasive practice of self-censorship
Most journalists cited the situation with labour relations as one of the factors that affect gravely the quality of their work and their freedom. With the problems of job insecurity, lack of contracts, salaries and insurance, “working in the media becomes increasingly uninspiring and it is difficult to motivate yourself”, Aleksandra Bogdani, from newspaper Mapo, said. This situation is a major contribution that leads to self-censorship, which is considered to be omnipresent. In practice this means that the journalists learn to “sense the interest of the media outlet and understand what are the lines they should never cross, usually at the expense of the news quality,” as a journalist stated. Other journalists said that when you understand the political leaning of the media you work for, you adapt to the editorial policy, as this makes your life easier. Increasingly self-censorship has been refined, becoming an integral part of journalists’ work.
The cases of violence or attacks on journalists are quite rare. However, they might intensify in periods of elections or political tension. Such episodes might sometimes come from private persons as well. In June 2012, a journalist that had reported on the foreign owner of a cement factory was assaulted by the owner’s bodyguard right in front of the police station, while the police did not intervene.  This culture of impunity, as well as weak or non-existent public reactions on media freedom violations, contribute to intimidation of journalists and discourage them from investigating certain stories.
Therefore the environment is not favourable to investigative reporting. Such journalism demands long-term research, which few media could afford. Having in mind the continuous staff shortage in media outlets, the future of the genre remains grim. However, one of the famous investigative journalists, Artan Hoxha of News 24 TV, appears to be more optimistic: “Journalists that have a genuine passion and courage not only give up, but they have intensified their rhythm, rendering investigative journalism more professional.” 
Corruption among journalists?
Though management of the media houses is generally better paid than reporters, journalists find that corruption is spread mostly among the higher-paid echelon. However, an outside source found corruptive practices in this profession as well, stating that “some reporters have used the information discovered during investigation for extortion or to gain favours.” Nevertheless, the general the public perception of corruption in media is low, especially compared to other social sectors.
*This flash report is excerpt from a longer research article.
Summarised by Jovana Mihajlović Trbovc
Media Integrity