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Self-Censorship

As opposed to ‘real’ censorship, where someone from the outside forces journalists to suppress or alter a certain piece of information, self-censorship means that journalist do it themselves pre-emptively, often due to the fear of injury to themselves or their families, fear of lawsuits or economic consequences that threaten the livelihood of the reporter or that of his/her family members.

Research data suggests that this worrying phenomenon continues to be ripe among Albanian journalists.

Immediately after the collapse of the communist regime in Albania and in the decade that followed, the relation between the political elite and journalists was confrontational and reporters often faced harassment and even imprisonment. Although after the turn of the millennium direct threats against journalist subsided, media continued to face a ‘carrot and stick’ approach from the government on its affiliated interests, which created the condition for an increased practice of self-censorship among journalists. Although self-censorship is not easy to measure, its practice remains a matter of concern for reporters and media practitioners, while some consider it as the biggest challenge currently faced by the media environment in Albania.  

A May 2016 European Parliament report identifies self-censorship as a recurring problem in the Balkan Media scene, often encouraged by the lack of job security and the fear of retaliation. The 2016 European Commission’s Progress Report on Albania underlines that delays in paying salaries for journalist and gaps of social security payments are a widespread phenomenon, which can easily lead toward self-censorship.     

A study conducted by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania in 2015 with 121 journalists, editors, media owners and experts concluded that the practice is widespread among local journalists, with the main push factor being identified in the intricate web of political and economic interests of media owners. The report, ‘A Blind Eye on News: Self-Censorship in the Albanian Media’, revealed that a triangle exists in Albania among business, media owners and politics, which undermines quality journalism and turns many reporters into victims of censorship and self-censorship.

According to the report, 70% of the respondents that were interviewed as part of the study believe that journalists in Albania avoid coverage of certain news topics. Meanwhile, almost half of the journalists that were surveyed reported of having directly avoided the coverage of one or more news stories during their career. According to the study the genre for which journalists practiced more often self-censorship were political news (70%), cases involving organized crime (60%) and economic news (50%).      

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. Albanian media outlets often were created by businessmen who used them to support their affiliated businesses interests in heavily regulated fields like construction, oil, gambling and banking . Apart from the intricate web that is created around media owner’s affiliated interests, the media climate in Albania is under pressure also by a series of other factors, including big corporate advertisers, government institutions and the government ad spending budgets. 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 that participated in the study gave a negative overview of their job security, which creates the conditions for journalists to be pushed toward self-censorship. The report notes that often the lack of written editorial guidelines is also a risk factor. Although journalists report that they are often aware of the unwritten editorial leaning of the media outlets they work for, which is often transmitted through signals sent in the newsroom by editors in chief, news directors or colleagues and can often change at a moment’s notice. These signals or informal policies inside a media organizations often push journalists to avoid the coverage of certain news stories that might conflict with the owners political or economic interests, provide one-sided or PR coverage of political and financial partners and a general avoidance of critical journalism and investigative reporting.    

Apart from jobs insecurity, threats to journalists’ safety are also cited often by reporters who cover the crime and court beat, as well as by journalist who cover politics and local media journalists. Media executives in Tirana also reported an increased pressure from organized crime, as a new phenomenon added to the long list of factors that already pushed journalists toward self-censorship.

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