11 October 2021
11 October 2021
The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response today express serious concern over a new Media and Information Agency (MIA) established by the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama in Albania and urge the ruling Socialist Party to immediately cancel its establishment to ensure it will not be used to further solidify control over the flow of public information. We also urge the European Union to immediately engage with the Albanian government to raise these concerns as a matter of priority in future accession talks.
Plans for the new agency, announced during the first session of the new parliament on September 18, would centralise control over the government’s public relations within a single entity. Under new rules, spokespersons at ministries and government departments will be prohibited from talking to the media directly and public information or comment will have to be approved by the MIA’s director general, who will be appointed directly by the Prime Minister and hold a status equal to that of a government minister.
The director general will have the power to appoint and dismiss spokespersons in every ministry, as well as approve their public appearances or interviews. The MIA will also decide on journalists’ requests for interviews and organise the press conferences of the Prime Minister and other ministers. In addition, the MIA will conduct monitoring of both the press and social media to track public opinion of government activities.
The government has said the new agency, which will be financed from the state budget and unspecified “donations”, will increase transparency and unify messaging across different ministries. However, our organisations share the concerns expressed by various leading editors-in-chief, civil society groups and media unions in Albania that rather than improve journalists’ access to public information, the establishment of the MIA may result in the exact opposite.
Context is vital here. Journalists in Albania currently work in an extremely difficult climate for accessing information from government sources. The government communicates with journalists via WhatsApp groups instead of using official channels. Reporters working for independent media are regularly discriminated against when seeking information or comment from ministers. Journalists viewed as representing “opposition” outlets are denied accreditation or barred from asking questions at press conferences. Those who seek comment from officials in person sometimes face hostility and obstruction. Official Freedom of Information requests regularly go unanswered and appeals through the Information Commissioner can be lengthy, with rulings often ignored outright.
At the same time, the Prime Minister shuns press conferences and instead relies on his own TV station ERTV to create and distribute sound bites and pre-edited video clips to the press. Interviews are given to selected journalists, shielding the PM and other ministers from facing challenging questions. Under the Socialist Party, other state institutions have emulated this model and now send out pre-prepared news packages to private TV stations and newspapers. The result is that across all levels of government, journalists face significant barriers in posing questions or properly scrutinising ministries. Against this backdrop, further solidification of government control over the flow of information by a single entity risks turning what is already a drip feed of information to journalists into a desert.
The level of influence the government and the Prime Minister himself will wield over the agency is a key concern. Media reports have already suggested that Endri Fuga, a close ally of the PM who spearheaded his public relations for the last eight years, has already secured the role of director general. His appointment would mirror that of another key ally, Ermela Krasniqi, to head the country’s Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA). This selective placement of two loyalists to lead institutions overseeing the regulation of media raises serious questions over their independence and impartiality and violates international standards.
Meanwhile, the oversized ability of the director general to hire and fire spokespersons – previously the responsibility of individual ministries – also poses questions over accountability and transparency. We are concerned that the MIA’s bilateral agreement with the public broadcaster Albanian Radio-Television (RTSH), which has operated without a director general for more than seven months now, may open the door to increased influence over its coverage. Likewise, plans for the MIA to distribute its own content about government activities in the manner of a state press agency raises additional concern over political influence and lack of impartiality. Following major revelations about the collection of citizen’s data by political parties via state institutions, the notion of tax-payer money being used to fund the monitoring of the press and social media by a government agency also sets alarm bells ringing.
In the longer term, this agency ultimately risks being a powerful tool for any government current or future to control the flow of public information to the media and to influence what citizens read, hear and watch. The role of journalists is to act as a filter between government and citizens. Limiting their ability to do so by constraining opportunities to question officials and side-lining critical journalists severely limits the ability of the press to do its job and hold power to account.
With the freedom of the media a cornerstone of Albania’s accession to the EU, it is vital that the EU mission in Tirana and the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi immediately respond to this latest development and address the concerns raised by our organisations and others. Until greater safeguards can be established to ensure the MIA operates in a fair and transparent manner, we urge the government to cancel its establishment pending consultation with national and international journalist groups.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Following a two-day fact-finding mission to Tirana on 17-18 November 2022, the partners of the Council of Europe’s Platform on Safety of Journalists today publish their findings on press freedom, media pluralism and the safety of journalists in Albania.READ MORE
Members of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), with the support of the coalition’s Italian group and Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), express solidarity with Roberto Saviano who attended the first hearing in the proceedings for aggravated defamation initiated against him by current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.READ MORE
Press freedom groups raise alarm that Bulgarian Foreign Agent law appears intended to target critical media.READ MORE
The undersigned international media freedom and journalists organisations wrote to Grigoris Dimitriadis to express our shared concern about defamation claims filed against investigative journalists and media outlets following your resignation from the role of general secretary in the office of the Greek Prime Minister in August 2022.READ MORE
The undersigned media freedom and journalists organisations and unions today urge the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic to vote to pass a draft bill which would amend the law on public broadcasting to strengthen the institutional independence of Česká televize (Czech Television) and Český rozhlas (Czech Radio).READ MORE
The partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today back calls for the testing of mobile devices belonging to journalists in Greece who suspect they may have been targets of intrusive spyware or other advanced surveillance.READ MORE
|_mcid||1 year||This is a Mailchimp functionality cookie used to evaluate the UI/UX interaction with its platform|
|_ga||2 years||The _ga cookie, installed by Google Analytics, calculates visitor, session and campaign data and also keeps track of site usage for the site's analytics report. The cookie stores information anonymously and assigns a randomly generated number to recognize unique visitors.|
|_gat_gtag_UA_84831681_1||1 minute||Set by Google to distinguish users.|
|_gid||1 day||Installed by Google Analytics, _gid cookie stores information on how visitors use a website, while also creating an analytics report of the website's performance. Some of the data that are collected include the number of visitors, their source, and the pages they visit anonymously.|
|ahoy_visit||4 hours||This cookie is set by Powr for analytics measurement.|
|ahoy_visitor||2 years||This cookie is set by Powr for analytics measurement.|
|CONSENT||2 years||YouTube sets this cookie via embedded youtube-videos and registers anonymous statistical data.|
|s_vi||2 years||An Adobe Analytics cookie that uses a unique visitor ID time/date stamp to identify a unique vistor to the website.|
|VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE||5 months 27 days||A cookie set by YouTube to measure bandwidth that determines whether the user gets the new or old player interface.|
|YSC||session||YSC cookie is set by Youtube and is used to track the views of embedded videos on Youtube pages.|
|yt-remote-connected-devices||never||YouTube sets this cookie to store the video preferences of the user using embedded YouTube video.|
|yt-remote-device-id||never||YouTube sets this cookie to store the video preferences of the user using embedded YouTube video.|