Dear Ambassador Del Monaco,
Dear media representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathering in a difficult context. COVID-19 has made the path to the truth more burdensome in front of fake news and conspiracy theories. With the waves of the pandemic, came new waves of disinformation affecting citizens’ ability to cope with this exceptional situation.
Under these circumstances, good quality journalism is as important as ever for democracies across the world.
In our past discussions on the media situation in Albania, I have highlighted two key features that define good journalism: the sense of duty in revealing wrongdoings and the sense of responsibility in reporting facts thoroughly. They both become more vital in times of crisis.
I have seen journalists reporting from Durres or Laç while the land was still shaking and others conducting interviews from inside COVID-19 hospitals. Exposing corruption and organised crime, environmental degradation, abuse of public funding, or denouncing cases of food safety abuse, is equally heroic to me.
The year that has passed since the last Media Forum has not been an easy one for journalists. In the 2020 country report on Albania published last month, the Commission stressed its serious concerns that Albania made no progress in the field of freedom of expression.
The Commission reported cases of police violence against journalists in the context of demonstrations. It called for zero tolerance on intimidation, threats and attacks against journalists and the media, including in the political discourse.
In addition, the Council underlined that amending the media law in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission remains an important priority.
In this regard, our gathering today is the best platform to encourage the Albanian authorities, as primary responsible entities for creating a conducive environment to freedom of the media, to use every opportunity to establish dialogue with media actors.
It is time to pursue the consultation process with the media community on the draft amendments related to media law, while taking into account the expertise of international actors, in order to ensure a positive impact of the legislative package on freedom of expression.
The EU is not here only to assess the situation, but also to lend its strong support to freedom of expression. Corrective efforts and positive policy actions are one side of the coin. The other side was to step up our financial assistance for the Albanian media at a difficult time.
The EU is assisting local media organisations and journalists associations is to strengthen their capacities. In the context of this programme, we have delivered eight sub-grants to media organisations, including five since the COVID crisis started.
Meanwhile, we are continuing our excellent cooperation with the OSCE in supporting the public broadcaster to deliver new programmes and the school of journalism to prepare the new generation of Albanian reporters. I would like to welcome our new colleague, Ambassador Del Monaco. I look forward to working closely with you on those issues.
With the aim of supporting independent investigative journalism, we are now launching a new programme to enhance the culture of independent and fact-based reporting in Albania. We are putting 750.000 euros in this effort, making it one of the biggest ever support to independent journalism in the country.
I am proud to announce today who the beneficiaries of this support are.
First, Top Channel, with the aim to strengthen investigative, in-depth reporting on corruption;
Then BIRN Albania. They will use data analysis to produce in-depth stories on topics that are particularly important to citizens such as health, labour and consumers’ rights, food and drug safety and environmental protection;
And finally, Era Film, which will produce an investigative journalism series on key issues of Albania’s EU-related reform agenda.
I am proud that in the past years we have considerably stepped up our support to media freedom in Albania, both politically and financially. The reason behind this engagement is clear and simple – we want to make sure that the voices of democracy are heard and that the pillars of pluralism hold strong.