Flash report 6: Albania

Flash report 6: Albania
Albanian local media: a struggle for survival
There are no abundant surveys and studies on the Albanian media landscape and the situation is even worse in the case of local media, whose trends and data have been documented only sporadically. In general, the path of local media to consolidation is still long and difficult. Economic difficulties and achievement of satisfactory financial sustainability remain the key obstacles for these media to overcome. At the same time, financial hardship and dependence on state and commercial advertising, coupled with difficulties in labor relations for local journalists, pose substantial threats to media independence and professionalism.
Landscape trends in local media
Along the years, the local media landscape has been rather unstable, especially in the print media sector, which remains underdeveloped. There are no daily newspapers in any city other than the capital and the frequency of newspapers published in other cities is often irregular and dependent on funds available. According to surveys carried out by the Albanian Media Institute in different periods, the number of daily newspapers has been rather volatile, with a tendency of shrinking. Thus, in 2003 efforts to document the landscape trends for local media registered a total of 30 local newspapers1. More than a decade later, there are only 15 newspapers published in the districts.2 In addition, the frequency of newspapers has diminished: there are no local weekly newspapers or magazines in 2015, compared to 14 such newspapers in 2003. In fact, in the best of cases, newspapers are monthly, but most of them are periodicals that come out whenever they can, experiencing financial hardship in continuity.
The situation appears to be significantly better for audiovisual media, though: there are currently 40 local radio stations, compared to 19 registered in 2003, and 51 local televisions compared to 34 TV stations that were operating in 2003. However, the future of these local media seems to be uncertain in the face of the imminent digital switchover, considering the extreme delays in preparation for this process from the authorities, the lack of knowledge of local media on the process, and the financial burden these media might have to bear.
Ownership and funding: blurry topics for local media
Similarly to other media outlets in the country, the issue of ownership and funding of local media outlets remains a key question both for the survival and independence of these media. Unlike national media, on which the law poses stricter criteria of ownership and pluralism, most local media outlets are owned by one person or are usually part of a family business. Similarly to national media or media based in the capital, though, the profile of the owners is that of businessmen from areas such as trade or construction who also ventured in the media business at some point. In this regard, the model of media being sustained by funds from their owners’ other businesses is still valid for the local media, and so are the ramifications for their independence. Even more so when considering the poverty of the advertising market for local media. In this respect, the media landscape mirrors the social situation in the country, where there is a huge gap between the capital and other regions. Looking at estimations for the 2013 advertising market, 94% of advertising for TV stations in the country went to the national and leading TV stations based in Tirana3, which indicates that sources of advertising for local TV stations hardly offer any sustainability.
Another source of concern for potential clientelistic relations between media and their financial supporters lies especially in advertising distributed by municipalities to the media in the districts. In Albania, there are no reliable public studies on audience and readership. Even the few existing attempts focus only on major media outlets in the capital and avoid the local media. In this situation, it is difficult for state and private advertisers to use criteria such as audience and circulation performance when buying advertising time or space. A 2014 survey revealed that local municipalities preferred to have an almost exclusive relationship with one particular local media outlet to use their advertising funds in. “Data from the state treasury indicate that in most cases the advertising funds are spent in only one TV or radio station, even if there might be at least five media outlets in that municipality.”4 This trend is also confirmed by different stakeholders. “The municipalities do not have clear and published criteria on how they distribute advertising funds. In fact, there are grave problems with transparency of the whole process of allocating advertising funds. However, it is clear that political affiliations and whether you are in good relations with the mayor or other staff from the municipality are the key factors in receiving these funds.”5  
In addition, the funds that local governments allocate to local media are often described as payment for services or specific stories commissioned by the municipalities.”6 This indicates that there is a clear tendency to commission stories and information pieces that are paid by the local government and broadcast on local TV stations as journalistic pieces, which might distort the reality or might prevent important information from appearing in local media. “Given the difficult situation with funding that local media face each day, they are in no position to refuse any financial favors, even when it means losing your profile as a medium.”7
Policies on development of local media
Specific policies on development of local media have been lacking. In general, the laws have paid lip service to the importance of securing pluralism in the media landscape, of which the local media are an important part. However, there have been no further policies or measures taken to encourage the development of the local media landscape: a preference to leave things to the market forces rather than intervene has been clear in the last 20 years. The current Law on Audiovisual Media has clear requirements in terms of respecting criteria such as coverage of minors, advertising broadcasting, product placement, promotion of European works, all deriving from the Audiovisual Media Services Media Directive. However, the law does not further specify any quota for local media in terms of programs relevant to local communities. The only effort in this respect seems to be that of granting licenses to community media, which was not regulated by law until 20138. Currently in Albania there are six radio stations that address several religious communities.9
In the absence of overall specific policies targeting local media, minority media are no exception and have been treated as all other media outlets. While the law has never prohibited broadcasting or publishing in a foreign language, there have been no special funds earmarked to encourage such initiatives. As a result, the sustainability of minority media has been even more volatile than that of local media, in view also of the relatively small communities and markets addressed by these minority media. There are currently only two irregularly published newspapers in the languages of minorities (Greek and Macedonian), compared to 11 such newspapers that existed in 2005. The situation with electronic media is no better. In fact, apart from limited programming from local branches of the public broadcaster, there is just one commercial radio station broadcasting in Greek in the south. Similarly, another initiative to address minorities is a TV program funded by foreign donors and addressing the Roma community. These trends indicate a clear lack of policies favoring the development of local and minority media. 
Local journalists and self-censorship
Given the low level of funds available to local media, they can afford to employ only a limited number of journalists, with an increasingly high work overload. The exact number of journalists in the districts is missing, but according to data from the trade union, they are estimated to compose 45% of the total number of journalists in the country. The union’s surveys indicate there is a huge gap between Tirana-based media and the ones in the districts: the average wage of local journalists is 150-220 USD, compared to 300-600 USD for regular reporters in the capital10. “Struggling to survive, local journalists frequently find themselves working for more than one media outlet and this is done in total informality, with no work contract and no social or health benefits. In these conditions, local journalists are in a position similar to that of slaves and you can hardly discuss professionalism or independence.”11 In fact, other actors also confirm that faced with an economic situation less privileged than that of colleagues in the capital and working in poorer and smaller markets, it becomes more imperative to conform to the policies of the owner or to avoid criticizing the local government.12
1 Albanian Media Institute, “Media lokale: Peizazh dhe udhëzues,” 2003.
2 AMI data on local media, 2015.
3 Ornela Liperi,“Tregu i reklamës 2013,“ Monitor, November 25, 2014.
4 Albanian Media Institute, “Monitoring State and Private Advertising in the Media,” 2014.
5 Interview with Shkëlqim Bylykbashi, head of the Albanian Media Club, January 2015. 
6 Albanian Media Institute, “Monitoring State and Private Advertising in the Media,” 2014.
7 Interview with Shkëlqim Bylykbashi, head of the Albanian Media Club, January 2015.
8 Law 97/2013 “On Audiovisual Media,” April 2013.
9 AMI data on local media, 2015.
10 Interview with Aleksander Cipa, November 2014.
11 Interview with Aleksander Cipa.
12 Interview with Shkelqim Bylykbashi.


Media Ownership and Finances