Dear Ambassador Borschardt, dear participants and dear friends,
Exactly a month ago, we were gathered around the same subjects at the European Commission’s Media Days Conference. It launched a very important discussion on freedom of expression and the state of media in the Balkans, and this is a great opportunity to continue in the specific context of Albania.
The conclusions made by Commissioner Hahn were very clear. The role of media is not a side issue in the EU enlargement process; it stands at its heart. There is a direct link between change in society and the change of social role of the media. Media transformation needs our full support, as much as media should be supporting democratic transition and good governance.
The first priority that needs to be addressed – and I would say that unfortunately still needs to be addressed are the working conditions of journalists, such as:
Such employment and working conditions, worsened by market pressure, are unacceptable and in worst cases create a situation where independence and ethics come almost as a luxury.
Those who take initiative to raise their voices about salaries and contracts too often face pressure and backlash. The current situation where journalists don’t protect and advance their rights collectively is not satisfactory. Self-regulation by associations of journalists needs to be strengthened and the EU will support this work in 2018.
Albanian authorities should also strengthen the implementation of access to information, especially in relation to procurement contracts, results of audits, everything that is linked to public financing.
We need to also recognise that some progress has been achieved since the last OSCE Media Development Forum a year ago. AMA is yet to be an independent and strong regulator, but the new Strategic Action Plan and new organisational structure are signs towards to right direction.
RTSH, which you will discuss today, has also approved a new statute, structure and editorial principles against political interference. The ODIHR report on the June elections highlighted RTSH’s balanced approach to campaign reporting. Those are small but positive developments, where the EU had made strong recommendations. The OSCE has been fully engaged in that regards and the EU will also support this work financially in 2018.
However, it is not all down to journalists and legal framework. The media establishment bears responsibility for the integrity and professionalism of Albanian journalism. The private ownership of media should in no way be a reason to prevent their accountability. Media is not a business like any other and, in healthy democracies, should come with standards and duty towards society as whole. Freedom of expression should not be confused with total absence of rules. To uphold this principle, the independence of regulatory authorities is essential.
Transparency of media ownership and funding is key to improve freedom of expression in the country. Clarifying who owns what is a priority – especially with new challenges, such as the multiplication of online portals, fake news and third parties influence.
On our side, in 2018 and for the following 2 years, the EU Delegation will roll out a programme of support to independent investigative journalism. Through grants, we will offer the possibility to help journalists create a stronger culture of independent and fact-based productions.
It takes only a few journalists striving for independence, and investigation to make a huge difference, and there are some great examples here in Albania.
Last month, in an article on the media situation in the Balkans, one of the best journalists in the region stressed that "those who suffer are the truly professional media that are willing to maintain ethical standards of journalism". The support of the EU is precisely aimed at ensuring a space for those journalists to flourish.
We have a common interest: a society that is well informed by media that are both free and responsible.
The famous quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan stands true more than ever: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts."
It is of utmost importance to support freedom of expression and critical dialogue in a society so that citizens can make informed decision and be part of a democratic decision making process. Our job is to work towards that end.
Thank you for your partnership.