Flash report 4: Albania

Flash report 4: Albania
Faced with problems of independence, the media community has never taken the issue of dealing with ethics through professional bodies as a high priority.
Self- regulation in Albanian media: an incomplete story
Journalist self-regulation in Albania is a relatively new and foreign concept. It has not yet taken root in the media community, although the first attempts to establish some kind of self-regulation guidelines were taken in the mid-1990s.  There are several factors that have influenced the failure to establish a successful self-regulation mechanism in the country. Faced with problems of independence, the media community has never taken the issue of dealing with ethics through professional bodies as a high priority. In an unfavourable economic and political context, with no tradition and experience of self-regulation advantages, Albanian journalists agreed with the concept in principle but never made a serious effort to further commit to this idea.
Early initiatives
The first discussions on the concept of self-regulation and its application in Albanian media took place in the mid-90s, a few years after the emergence and boom of private media in the country. Similarly to media legislation, the interest in self-regulation was first sparked and encouraged by foreign donors and media experts. The commercial media and journalists at the time were both young and lacking the professional experience and maturity that would enable them to adopt codes of conduct and establish self-regulatory bodies. 
Apart from different media donors, a significant actor of continuous attempts aimed at introducing the practice of self-regulation has been the Albanian Media Institute. The first Code of Ethics for journalists was drafted in 1996 by the Albanian Media Institute in cooperation with the main journalist associations at the time. However, the professional code was never embraced by media outlets. Another attempt to revive the self-regulation idea took place in 2006, when the same actors revised the Code of Ethics. Parallel to this, there were efforts to set up a self-regulatory body, open for all media outlets to participate. The media outlets were generally in favour of self-regulation, but they did not take any further commitment to this body and the initiative ended there.
Although important media actors have been part of discussions on media self-regulation, the initiative to establish self-regulation practices has rarely originated from media organizations. While ignoring the above-mentioned attempts to organize self-regulation on a national or broad scale, media outlets have never tried to adopt their own formal guidelines of conduct. The only exception has been the daily newspaper Shekulli, which drafted its internal Code of Ethics at the moment it was established in 1998. In addition, the newspaper also had the Ethics Bureau which, rather than working on readers’ complaints, made retrospective weekly reviews of journalists’ work from an ethical point of view. This novelty did not originate in the newsroom, but came from the owner of the newspaper.1 The same owner decided to dispense with the paper a few years later due to financial crisis and a lack of interest, but also indicating the volatility of such new initiatives in the Albanian media environment. 
Weak professional self-organising 
Albanian journalists have not managed to strongly organize themselves so far, neither in terms of protecting and advancing their rights nor in uniting in the name of professional goals and identity. Many associations of journalists have been established throughout the years, but most of them have slowly faded with no active membership and with very sporadic and weak professional activity. Unless faced with some flagrant case of pressure against journalists, solidarity and professional activism amongst journalists is quite poor. There are difficulties even in organizing trade unions and demanding basic rights, such as the implementation of regulation of labour relations for journalists. Against this backdrop, uniting in the name of professionalism and ethics seems to be a goal even more difficult to achieve. DW correspondent in Albania, Arben Muka, thinks that the weakness in the organization of associations of journalists “leads to a kind of spontaneous treatment of ethical aspects, not making ethical reflection an inherent part of the media system.”2
Recent attempts to bear professional responsibility
In 2013, as part of an UNESCO-led initiative, there were attempts to establish pilot ombudsmen in four newspapers and one online media in the country.  However, the established ombudsmen in these newspapers met with an insignificant number of requests, complaints and low interest from the public. Part of the explanation for this vague interest might be related to the very novelty of the concept to Albanian reality, a way of mediating between the media and the public that takes time to get used to. The Mapo newspaper pilot ombudsmen notes:  “I think this might be related to a ‘shortcut’ that Albanians use to face the institutions, when it comes to problems big and small alike, and similarly also to ethical complaints. This ‘shortcut’ consists in the fact that the direct call to the owner of the media or to the editor is much more preferred, sidestepping thus ’the institutional route,’ namely the Reader’s Advocate in this case.“3 The experience of ombudsmen shows that even in those cases when the media seem to commit to self-regulation and become more open and responsive to public criticism, it is the public that is not yet ready to take this opportunity, indicating that this process will require further time and maturity from all actors involved.
The approach taken by the online portal Respublica, however, seems encouraging. Its authors created a special section on their website, called “Respublica vs. Readers.” In this section, the editorial team responds to a selection of readers’ comments to the articles published on their portal, trying to establish a discussion with readers. Their aim is to orient the communication to presentation and confrontation of arguments on the topic, rather than personal assaults on the author of the article or on its subjects, which is often the case in online forums. These recent attempts to bear professional responsibility seem to indicate that parallel to media willingness and commitment to self-regulation, there should also be a process of educating the public on the topic. 
Another attempt to engage in self-regulation comes from a recently established media group Free and Fair Media Group, which publishes a daily newspaper Shqiptarja.com, website with the same name, and owns the news TV station A1 Report. This group has elaborated a detailed own Code of ethics. Apart from general professional norms, it includes specific guidelines for reporting on minors, sexual orientation, aged people, polls, terrorism, rallies as well as a dress code and principles of legal aid to journalists. The Code is obligatory for all employees. However, it does not stipulate sanctions for breaches of the Code. 
New challenges 
The current development of online media and social media has put new challenges for regulation and self-regulation of professional ethics. New online media outlets are often seen as the greatest offenders of ethical norms. There are no formal codes of ethics applied by any of these media, and the practice changes from one newsroom to the next. However, as different monitoring efforts have indicated, in the overwhelming part of the cases the offences are found in the User Generated Content, rather than in the content produced by the professional staff.4 Online media have responded differently to the problem of interaction with readers, ranging from lack of any policy or intervention, to partial filtering and moderation, or even to cases when hardly any comment goes through. However, in general, although regulation of user-generated content in online media is a common concern, only a handful of media outlets take specific steps in this direction.5 Even though online media is still a relatively new field, with the increased number of online media and the popularity it is gaining, it seems that the professional debate on ethics will transfer soon to this realm.
1 Londo, I, ‘Albania’ in Labor Relations and Media: Analyzing Patterns of Labor Relations in the Media of SEENPM Member Countries, SEENMP, 2008, pp. 64-91, available at: http://ijc.md/Publicatii/resurse/Labor_Relations_and_Media.pdf 
2 Interview with Arben Muka, October 2013.
3 “Reader’s Editor: The experience of Mapo newspaper”, Mapo, 31 October 2013.
4 Albanian Media Institute, “Monitorim i gjuhes se urrejtjes ne media,” June 2013.
5 Ibid.
Media Integrity
Media Policy and Reforms