The boundaries between media, politics and business have always been blurry in Albania. However, because of the small size and the high number of outlets the market was perceived by some local observers as vibrant and plural. However, a joint research project between Reporters Without Borders and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania, reveals that the Albania media scene is highly concentrated in the hand of few major owners, who have strong political affiliations, and control more than half of the audience share and nearly 90% of the market share. The research comprises 44 media outlets, 25 companies and 25 media owners, with information on ownership and affiliated interests of owners collected through request for information, freedom of information requests and publically available data.
A handful of major owners control the market
The Media Ownership Monitor has revealed that the media market in Albania is highly concentrated. The top four owners in Albania’s Television market, reach an audience between 48.93% to 58,60% - based on the data reported by two available media research agencies. A medium concentration can be observed in printed press, where the top four owners (Irfan Hysenbelliu, Koço Kokëdhima, Henri Çili and the Dabulla Brothers) have a combined readership of 43.29%. In Radio, the audience concentration is higher, with four owners (Hoxha Family, Arben Bylykbashi, Public Radio and the Ndroqi Family) reaching 63.69% of the audience. This poses a high risk to media pluralism in the country. The concentration is even higher across media sectors, where the top eight owners reach an audience of 72,1% to 80.1%.
Media Under Fire
Although most media market is controlled by a small number of powerful owners with strong political ties, the few independent outlets and journalists often face intimidation and verbal abuse from politicians. Faced with questions over the alleged ties of his minister of interior to a drug trafficking gang, Prime Minister Edi Rama lashed out at journalists in October 2017 during an impromptu presser calling them ‘ignorant’, ‘poison’, ‘garbage bin’, ‘scandalmongers’, ‘charlatans’, and ‘public enemies’. The denigration of the media features often in Rama’s rhetoric, who over the last few years has increasingly used communication through social media to avoid scrutiny from journalists. Some commentators have opined that the behind the colorful language used against the media by Albanian politicians stands a ‘strategy of abuse,’ which aims to derail public attention from scandals by providing a readymade TV spectacle. Others see it as an attempt to delegitimize the ever shrinking pool of critical journalists and outlets, which are not controlled directly from oligarchs and indirectly by Rama, Meta, Berisha and their cronies.
MOM’s research showed that political control over media outlets in Albania is rated as high. The audience reach of the politically affiliated media owners ranges from 65,18% (Abacus data) to 75,86% (Telemetrix data). Due to the pressure from media owners and their political and economic interests, many Albanian journalists resort to self-censorship. Self-censorship usually occurs in a media market because of indirect and direct pressure on media organizations, internal pressures and the acculturation of the journalists to the values shared by the news organization they work for. MOM’s research has shown that political control over media outlets in Albania is rated as high. Apart from the intricate web that is created around media owners affiliated interests, the media climate in Albania is under pressure also from a series of other factors, including big corporate advertisers and government institutions. However, none of these outside factors play as big an influence on pushing journalists toward self-censorship as the economic and political interests of owners. Roughly 80% of journalists in Albania give a negative overview of their job security, which creates the conditions for journalists to be pushed toward self-censorship.