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Dear Journalists and public broadcaster's representatives,
Dear Chairperson Vokshi
Dear Director Gëllçi,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ensuring the independence of public broadcasters is fundamental to safeguard freedom of expression and to provide balanced and pluralistic information to citizens.
Public broadcasters should supply, on a free-to-air basis, high quality programming which respond to the democratic, social and cultural needs of society. They also play a crucial role with regard to cultural and linguistic diversity.
Reaching those essential democratic objectives is becoming increasingly challenging under constant business and political pressure, influence of third parties and technological changes. That is why the European Union has stepped up its support to public broadcasters in the Western Balkans.
Strong, professional and independent public broadcasters are crucial for building up democracy in the region and for an adequate communication of reforms. They are undisputable indicators of the level of media freedom and freedom of expression. And, as you know, freedom of expression is a litmus test of a country's commitment to good governance, political accountability and its readiness to enter the EU.
However, what we see in all countries of the region are attempts to interfere with the public broadcasters, either from politicians or from business interests. Without significant safeguards, they also are the first victims of budget cuts that jeopardize their sustainability.
Here in Albania, the national public broadcaster, RTSH, has entered a reform to become a more credible, trusted and widely-watched media. It is a long-term process that benefits from the precious support of our friends at the OSCE.
Progress is already clear. RTSH has new internal structures reflecting the digital switchover and has approved editorial principles to guard against political interference. The OSCE/ODIHR report on the last parliamentary elections rightly stressed that RTSH showed a balanced approach to campaign reporting.
Those are improvements which need to be consolidated. The main issue obviously is the one you will be discussing today: ensuring the financial sustainability of RTSH.
As an OSCE report made clear last year, RTSH is one of the worst resourced public service media in Europe. Total funding of RTSH stands at about 6 Euros per capita, which is of one of the lowest figures in Southeast Europe (second only to Bosnia and Herzegovina). The license fee is the second lowest among all European Broadcasting Union members (higher only than Algeria’s) and by far the lowest in Southeast Europe: it stands at 26% of the regional average.
These financial limitations make it difficult, or even impossible, for RTSH to improve its programming and upgrade its technology, which is massively outdated. As a result, RTSH’s competitive position in the market and its role as a public service media is seriously compromised.
Against this background and with the strong belief that the independence of the public broadcaster is of key importance to young democracies like the Western Balkans, the EU has launched a regional project “Empowering Society – Technical Assistance to Public Service Media in the Western Balkans”, part of which is this roundtable on the financing of RTSH.
Obviously there are differences in the models of governance and financing when it comes to public media. I am sure that today you will bring to the table the situation across the region and across Europe, and discuss which would be the best model. We will look closely at your conclusions and recommendations to help us tailor or support to the public broadcaster.
I can already tell you that, in close partnership with the OSCE, the EU is about to finalise our new programme for the strengthening of the public broadcaster with quality content production. This will also include support to the journalism department of the University of Tirana to better prepare the future generation of journalists.
Public service broadcasters must be able to engage new generations and apply new technologies to create public value, and have fair funding to do so.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to conclude my brief intervention with a good definition of public broadcasting by the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard: "The most trusted public broadcasters are those that are perceived as closest to the public, and most distant from the government".
The task of making that happen falls first on the political level, but alos on all of us, including journalists who should be supported to uphold professional standards and independence in often harsh conditions. It falls on the international community to be by your side.
You can certainly count on the European Union to put the independency and financial sustainability of the public broadcaster at the heart of our media policy here in Albania.