Eighteen years after the fall of the communist dictatorship, Albania officially ratified its membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on 4 April 2009. This step, unanimously hailed by the media and political class, particularly the Democratic Party (DP) of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, looked like a “miracle of freedom” and one which the independent media was keen to enjoy as well.
Vitality and growth in the media sector does not always ensure the emergence of genuine pluralism of news and information. Investigative journalism remains embryonic and struggles to find space in a press belonging either to industrial groups determined to protect their spheres of influence or by political parties that too often confuse news with propaganda.
Corruption in public services and real estate are particularly sensitive issues, as is organised crime and smuggling.
Journalists’ financial and social instability, linked to the absence of a legal framework for the exercise of the profession, leaves reporters at the mercy of arbitrary decisions and furthers corruption.
Government control over the public media is ubiquitous. Press management positions are political appointments thus ensuring a favourable editorial line. Even though privately-owned media do have more freedom, they are not protected from a number of forms of pressure. Excessive bills for public services, withdrawal of advertising, tax changes and official snafus are all “legal” weapons used to promote the self-censorship which is already apparent in a large number of media. Police on 9 January 2009 surrounded the offices of the privately-owned daily Tema in the capital Tirana and banned access to journalists and other staff after the interior ministry enforced a rupture in its lease. It was applying a finance ministry ruling of 16 December 2007 that ended without notice the lease of offices Tema had been renting for 20 years in a state-owned building. This decision was however overturned on appeal on 6 January 2009 allowing Tema to occupy the buildings legally. The National Council for Radio and Television (NCTR) also played an effective role in enforcing “respect for national identity” by fining News 24 TV eight million lecks (7, 000 euros) for broadcasting a spoof press campaign by the non-governmental organisation G99 of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, boasting of government efforts and successes in the fight against corruption, calling on citizens to contact him on his mobile phone to report corruption cases directly to him.