Alan Davis on Fri, 17 Jul 1998 20:28:26 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Albanian Media Monitor 20 - Final Issue

*******FINAL ISSUE*******

Welcome to the 20th and final issue of the Albanian Media Monitor, a
biweekly newsletter produced in Tirana by the Institute for Journalism in
Transition (IJT <>).

Ten months after our monitoring effort was launched in August 1997, the
Albanian media landscape is fundamentally changed. When we began the
project, a new government had just taken over following four months of
unrest and anarchy in Albania.

In early 1997, both print and electronic media were still confronting harsh
economic and political difficulties. Violence against journalists was a
daily occurrence. At the height of the crisis, in March, newspapers stopped
publishing after parliament introduced censorship, in a clear contravention
of the constitution.

The June 1997 elections marked a new beginning for all sectors of the
media. Private radio and television broadcasters began mushrooming despite
the absence of legislation, and parliament started working on a draft law
aimed at legalizing private broadcasters and turning state radio and
television (RTSH) into a full-fledged public broadcaster.

The Albanian Media Monitor not only followed these developments closely but
also gave essential stimuli to the public debate on the new legislation.
The drafting of no other law in Albania has ever been so open to public
scrutiny (see article below), and one should hope that the whole process
will be seen as a test case for the drafting of a new constitution later
this year. Besides covering this towering issue, the Albanian Media Monitor
has attempted to provide general insight into media coverage of main
political events, economic difficulties confronting the media, and the
human-rights situation and the working conditions in Albanian journalism.

Despite the recent improvements on the media scene, much remains to be
done. After the new media law is approved by parliament--soon after this
issue reaches you--there will be a need for close monitoring of its
implementation. Will the process of private licensing be fair? How are
courts going to handle complaints? How will private broadcasters reform
their poorly equipped stations in order to improve their technical and
professional quality? Is diversity in the electronic media going to
increase? How will the transformation into a public broadcasting
institution affect RTSH's professional level? What can be done to assist
that reform? At the same time, newspapers continue to face economic
problems that have not diminished since last year's crisis. Some have
closed down and many more say they may go bankrupt as well. We are hoping
to answer all those questions with a new project in the future. 

Just as the Albanian Media Monitoring project comes to a halt, a new
crisis has developed in northern Albania as a consequence of increased
strife in Kosovo. This crisis has begun to dominate the media in Albania
and has developed into a major challenge to the government and effectively
dominates its agenda. Prior to that crisis, Albanian journalists used to
focus mainly on Tirana and hardly ever covered events in the rural areas
of Albania. Similarly, there is an even deeper lack of knowledge and
information about the affairs in neighboring countries--even about the
goings on in regions heavily populated with ethnic-Albanians, such as
Kosovo and western Macedonia. Therefore, there will be a need to promote
and improve regional coverage and a more diverse journalism, which would
also be more sensitive toward the concerns of minorities. This would help
overcome stereotypes that still dominate Albanian-language media coverage,
not only in Albania but also in the neighboring regions. 

We are hoping to find another opportunity to continue our monitoring
effort. We also hope to look deeper into the coverage of events in Kosovo
and Macedonia by the Albanian media and into problems and possibilities of
improving regional journalism and cooperation of Albanian journalists with
their colleagues in neighboring countries. Until then, we thank you for
your interest, we thank the OSI Regional Media Programme in Budapest for
its support, and we say good-bye from Tirana. 

Fabian Schmidt & Andi Bejtja, IJT, Tirana

Forthcoming FRY Media Monitoring Bulletin

We will shortly be opening a new office in Belgrade from where we will be
producing a new bi-weekly media monitoring bulletin compiled from reports
sent in by our analysts posted throughout the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia (FRY). Those readers interested in receiving this free
bulletin, should send an e-mail to IJT Director of Programmes, Alan Davis

ALBANIAN MEDIA MONITOR     VOL. 2, NO. 12, ISSUE 20              9 JULY

In this issue:

* Public debate on broadcasting law ends
* A snapshot of the print media scene


The public participation in the drafting of a new broadcasting law (see
"Albanian Media Monitor" Vol. 2, No. 10 Issue 18) ended with a public
television debate on 4 June and a round table on 11 June.

The debate began with the publication of the draft broadcasting law on 9
May in "Gazeta Shqiptare", after which the parliamentary media commission
invited everybody to submit written comments and suggestions regarding the
law. There were two initial round tables in May, one on the part of the law
dealing with reform of state radio and television into a public
broadcasting institution and another focusing on legalization and
registration of private broadcasters.

The 4 June debate, which was organized by state television, featured the
head of the parliamentary media commission, Musa Ulqini (Socialist Party);
his deputy, Vili Minarolli (Democratic Party); the deputy director of
Albanian television, Sefedin Cela; and Genti Ibrahimi, a legal expert from
the working group that drafted the law. The most outspoken panelist was
Minarolli, who argued that various provisions in the law were too liberal
toward foreign investors and did not take into account the protection of
"national interests." Minarolli complained, for example, that the draft set
the same limit for the maximum ownership stake in a national broadcaster
for both domestic and foreign investors. Ulqini countered that a certain
amount of liberalism was necessary, because otherwise badly needed foreign
investment would not be attracted. Ulqini further argued that the Council
of Europe considered the law?s provisions in line with similar legislation
in other European countries. But Minarolli insisted that an article from
the May 1997 broadcasting law, which explicitly referred to "the protection
of national interests," was dropped from the new version. He said that
programs of many Italian radio and television stations are being
rebroadcast in Albania, which threatened the Albanian domestic advertising
market. He mentioned the example of Telenorba, a local broadcaster from
southern Italy, which broadcasts Albanian-language advertising from time to
time. Ulqini countered the criticism, saying that national interests were
indirectly protected in the articles that define the professional standards
of journalism. He also pointed out that, after the end of communism, most
Albanians welcomed foreign television stations as a window to the world. He
added that this has had a positive rather than a negative impact. Ulqini
nonetheless pledged to consider Minarolli?s suggestions concerning

The article that forbids the broadcasting of pornography and divulging
state secrets was also disputed. While everybody agreed that this was a
difficult formulation that needed further specification, Genti Ibrahimi
said that the parliament was currently working on two further laws: one
that will define what constitutes a state secret and provide for the
creation of a board of classification; and a freedom of information act to
protect journalists against arbitrary court rulings.

Other issues in the debate included the appointment of the National Radio
and Television Council. Minarolli criticized the allocation of seats in the
council (a third of the members are appointed by the governing coalition, a
third by the parliamentary opposition, and the remaining third by the
president), arguing that the proportions were not well-balanced. Ulqini
countered that the law contained clear definitions, specifying that those
appointed must not be party members and must come from the whole spectrum
of social and cultural life. He also added that the law included tough
regulations preventing abuse of office and conflict of interest between
members of the council and political or economic interest groups.

The final part of the public debate had the form of a round table to which
the parliamentary media commission had invited all parties and individuals
who submitted suggestions and complaints about the draft. Some 30 groups
and individuals submitted suggestions, ranging from an ecumenical body
representing Albania?s religious communities, which objected that they were
not allowed to own radio and television stations, to representatives of
private broadcasters and the association of authors, who suggested changes
to the law to increase the protection of authors? rights. Another issue
raised by a representative of Albania's drug and food administration was to
ban the advertising of food that does not have official approval for
marketing. The parliamentary media commission responded with a proposal to
include a reference to the appropriate customer protection laws in the new

Most points were of technical nature, and the parliamentary media
commission considered about half of the suggestions. In the disputed cases,
Ulqini mostly used the expert opinion of the Council of Europe about the
draft as a guideline. In other cases of a more general character, such as
the ownership debate with the religious communities, the parliamentary
media commission was not willing to compromise.

The law does not regulate the appeals procedure in cases when the National
Radio and Television Council refuses a license or gives preference to
another bidder. Ulqini said that the dissatisfied party has the right to
bring the case to court. A Law on Competition is currently being drafted
with the help of an expert from the German Association for Technical

The media commission also considered a number of suggestions made by
Article 19, which had arrived only after the round-table discussion. Ulqini
told IJT that the media commission took all of Article 19's suggestions
into account.

The draft will be submitted to a vote in parliament in mid-July.

by Gjergj Pilika, Klan magazine

The Albanian newspaper market in the summer of 1998 is considerably
different than it was a year ago. While the traditionally larger newspapers
have suffered drops in circulation, those smaller papers that have managed
to survive have stabilized their circulation, sometimes even adding a few
thousand copies to the tally. But at the same time, all newspaper
publishers, be they from the left or right side of the political spectrum,
from independent or party papers, from small or large papers, new or old
dailies, agree that the press is still going through a difficult time. They
point out that the people are poorer today and buy less papers than they
used to. In early June, sales of newspapers were over 10 percent lower than
a year before: the total daily circulation of all newspapers has dropped
from about 85,000 copies to 75,000 copies.

Simultaneously, there has been a shift in readership among different
papers. While the opposition papers "Rilindja Demokratike" and "Albania"
have been able to increase their daily circulation from 6,000 and 7,000
copies to 10,000 and 8,000, respectively, the largest daily in the country
"Koha Jone" prints only 20,000 copies, or 33 percent less than last year?s
30,000. Other large dailies that suffered a drop in circulation are the
Socialist Party daily "Zeri i Popullit," whose current circulation is only
12,000 compared to 18,000 in summer 1997; and the Republican Party daily
"Republika," which is down to 12,000 from 14,000.

The average Albanian has to spend a share of his income 10 to 20 times
larger than his EU or U.S. counterparts must in order to buy a newspaper.
The nominal prices of papers in Albania are almost as high as abroad. For
example, ?The Washington Post? costs 50 cents or just slightly more than
"Koha Jone."

The low readership is also linked to Albanians distrust of the press. A
spring survey of 500 people in Tirana conducted by the Albanian Media
Institute showed that 63 percent believed that the press itself is
generating problems for ordinary people. Only 18 percent thought that the
press gave a positive contribution to the daily life of the nation. Only 26
percent bought a newspaper every day, 20 percent bought newspapers often,
34 percent did so rarely, and another 20 percent never bought a paper. The
number of those who read newspapers was only slightly higher than the
number of those who actually bought them: 30 percent read newspapers every
day, 25 percent read them often, 37 percent did so rarely, and 7 percent
never read the press.

Armand Shkullaku, editor in chief of "Koha Jone," points out that the drop
in circulation is a direct result of the collapse of the pyramid investment
schemes and the subsequent economic disaster in Albania. Shkullaku says
"people now think twice before buying a particular paper, while in the past
they bought two or three papers." His counterparts from other newspapers
unanimously agree. Fatos Baxhaku of "Gazeta Shqiptare" adds that the drop
in circulation is a result of the psychological effect of the tragedy that
Albania went through in 1997. "After all the blood that was shed, a simple
murder does not make a good news story anymore."

"The main ingredient from which news is made is politics and developments
around it. With the Nano government in power, many political conflicts have
disappeared, especially beatings and jailing of journalists and opposition
politicians. Quiet politics is not good news to sell to the Albanian
reader", Shkullaku says.

The publisher of "Albania," Ylli Rakipi, complains that there is a
merciless influence of politics on the press. Rakipi points out that
"journalists themselves have higher professional demands than before, but
politicians keep the press on a tight financial leash at a time when the
press is in danger of bankruptcy." Rakipi also notes a new phenomenon,
whereby poor people manage to read the papers by paying nothing or little
in exchange. ?There are lot of people who give the vendor ten lek [a third
of the price of an average newspaper] and go to read the papers in a nearby
coffeehouse. Later they return them to the vendor who sells them [as new],"
Rakipi explains.

The competition among newspapers is harsh, as indicated by the rises and
falls of newspapers over the past year. Baxhaku notes that professional
ethics often get lost in the fight for readers, adding that arrogance and
slander do not drive readers away on a large scale. "Many newspapers
continue to manipulate their headlines in order to catch the attention of
potential buyers but the article content does not keep with what is
promised in the title. While this strategy can bring immediate results, it
will have a damaging effect for the paper in the long run," says Baxhaku.

"In 1990 and 1991", says Shkullaku, "there were journalists who on one hand
lacked professional experience but who on the other hand were very engaged
and worked with passion, sometimes without pay. Unfortunately, two or three
years later, journalism turned into a means of survival. There is no more
passion: journalists produce news as a matter of course and do not want to
break real stories. What is worse, in many cases journalists have
[effectively] turned into spokespersons, reciting government or other
declarations. Newspapers thus became bulletins and hence do not stay ahead
of the curve." And that is why electronic media have an easy task in
competing with their print counterparts, Shkullaku explains. He also says
that this may become a danger for the print media, especially at a time
when journalists are increasingly leaving newspapers in favor of private
radio and television stations.

A fault of the publishers seems to be that they are pampering their
journalists. Many young journalists believe that it is enough to get a job
in a large--or even small--newsroom to become a big-time journalist, ready
to interview famous people, politicians and artists; travel abroad; and
receive a comparably high salary. This notion was a direct result of the
increase of the number of journalists, which then led to an increase of
publications, often with low professional standards. "The creation of an
unrealistic market," says Shkullaku, "or paying unrealistically high
salaries have not come as a result of an increased need for journalists but
as a direct result of conflicts among publishers and competition for
journalists. That has given an opportunity even to weak journalists to
demand high wages."

According to Shkullaku, who is also the head of the Association of
Professional Journalists, the distribution problem remains the largest
obstacle to increased circulation. He points out that papers only get
distributed to about 40 percent of the country. He says papers ?do not even
make it to Bathore, a village in the immediate neighborhood of Tirana." He
claims that newspapers could increase their circulation by 30 percent right
away if they had a modern distribution system. Rakipi, his counterpart from
the League of Journalists, agrees. He proposes that the government should
ask foreign donors to help with the creation of a nation-wide distribution

But the day when readers will be able to have their daily newspaper
delivered with the morning mail seems as far off as ever. On one hand,
donors are unlikely to finance such an effort, because it is unlikely that
it would be financially sustainable even in the long run and would hence
require further subsidies after an initial investment. Under communism,
such a distribution system existed and it was possible to subscribe to
papers, but it was subsidized by the government as a part of the communist
propaganda apparatus. "Gazeta Shqiptare"s Baxhaku says that not only is
there no agency that could offer subscriptions but that Albanians have
forgotten the culture of subscribing and that only a few customers would be
ready to do so. Instead, he says, his paper has had a limited success in
making itself more attractive by giving away special weekly supplements
such as magazines or calendars. It has been including the Italian-language
lifestyle magazine "Speccio," and during the World Cup, it has been giving
out free glossy photos of soccer teams and background stories for soccer
aficionados. Besides the free supplements, "Gazeta Shqiptare" has also been
promoting itself by announcing its main stories on posters at certain
locations in Tirana.

Other newspapers have not used these kinds of promotions. ?Albania??s Ylli
Rakipi ironically remarks that by offering "Speccio" as a gift, "Gazeta
Shqiptare" merely helps the Italian publisher Carlo Bollino to get rid of
unsold stocks of magazines.

Shkullaku says that even with all these ideas being implemented and floated
around, defining the circulation of newspapers still remains a risky game.
"If it rains we are in a pickle as to how to set our circulation for the
next day, because if the weather does not improve, we may be able to sell
hardly any copies, because vendors might just go home in the afternoon."

The advertising market also remains underdeveloped. The newspaper that
complains most about a drop in advertising since last year is "Albania".
Its publisher, Ylli Rakipi, maintains that the government discriminates

against his paper because it is pro-opposition and has been blaming the
current government for the anarchy of last year. Rakipi says that
"government advertising has become a type of bribe in the sense that the
state channels money to papers it likes better by putting public service
announcements in them.?

Other newspapers, however, seemingly haven?t experienced major declines in
advertising revenue. "Gazeta Shqiptar"s Baxhaku even says that his
newspaper's advertising situation is showing signs of improvement. Still,
advertising and marketing remain the main problems and the general decline
in circulation makes it even more difficult for papers to increase the
amount of space dedicated to advertising. Baxhaku admits that he would like
to hire a marketing expert but admits that it is difficult to find a
skilled person.

Last December, newspapers started a debate by demanding a reduction in
taxes and even stopped publishing for one week to underline their demands.
But the government--which clearly does not suffer if newspapers do not
appear on the stands given the way it fares in most of the press--remained
steadfast in its position that print media should not be treated
differently than other businesses, especially considering that last
October?s tax increase, implemented at the request of the International
Monetary Fund, hit all sectors of Albania's economy equally hard. The
editors in chief and publishers beg to disagree. Baxhaku points out that
"while the government hardly taxes cigarettes [which are smuggled into
Albania], it does not allow a single gram of newsprint into the country

Direct subsidies to the press are currently not on the government?s agenda,
even though the Albanian Media Institute opinion poll showed that 62
percent of respondents favored such subsidies, while only 20 percent
opposed them.

Alfred Peza, editor in chief of "Shekulli," says that most of the problems
of the press originate from the fact that most papers are not supported by
business interests. ?Shekulli? is subsidized by the business conglomerate
2K of Koco Kokedhima, one of Albania's most successful businessmen. Still,
with a daily circulation of only 5,000 copies, it is hardly a major player
in the market. Peza, nonetheless, maintains that the main business
activities of 2K enable an effective management of his newspaper. He claims
that, of all newspapers, "Shekulli" has the best equipment and
infrastructure. But those significant investments have not been cost
effective so far.

The overall problems of the Albanian press are likely to continue in the
long run, until economic growth begins to strengthen the purchasing power
of the population at large. That should eventually lead to the development
of a distribution system on market principles. But as long as only 42 out
of 1,000 Albanians can afford a newspaper, that is unlikely to happen.

Albanian Media Monitor Project
Project Director: Fabian Schmidt
Project Officer: Andi Bejtja

The "Albanian Media Monitor" was produced in Tirana by the Institute for
Journalism in Transition and funded by the Open Society Institute's
Regional Media Program. The complete archive of 'Albanian Media Monitor' is
available on the World Wide Web at:

Institute for Journalism in Transition

The Institute for Journalism in Transition (IJT) is an independent
non-profit organization supporting regional media and democratic change.

Articles from the Albanian Media Monitor are available, with permission,
for re-publication. IJT also operates projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and The Hague. For details,
please contact our London office. Editors welcome all correspondence.
Please send your comments to Alan Davis, programs director, at

Co-Executive Directors: Jan Urban & Anthony Borden Programs Director: Alan
Electronic Publications Editor: Sava Tatic

London Office:
Lancaster House
33 Islington High Street
London N1 9LH, United Kingdom
Tel: (44 171) 713 7130 Fax: (44 171) 713 7140

Prague Office:
Seifertova 47
130 00 Praha 3, Czech Republic
Tel: (420 2) 627-9445 Fax: (420 2) 627-9444

Copyright (C) 1998 The Institute for Journalism in Transition

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