News24 is the first and most followed channel all news airing 24 hours on 24 - with plays that oscillate between the 5.36 and the 8.99% of the share - and is part of an important media group that also has a radio, two newspapers, a monthly magazine and one of the most visited information sites of the country.
“News24 is not a company, but an investment for society, to give voice to the weakest. Where those without power find support and those without hope find an opportunity ", said the entrepreneur Irfan Hysenbelliu, president of the network, two years ago at the ceremony for the 15 years of the beginning of the transmissions.
News24 is also part of a corporate group that has several construction companies, a chain of hotels, a private university and some companies in the beverage sector, an empire that - as revealed by the family scion to the TG2 cameras in a report on millionaires across the Adriatic - today it is worth half a billion euros.
In view of the new television season, the heads of News 24 have announced a restructuring of the network and several new features in the programming. A renewal that, however, has passed since the suspension of two notoriously critical talk shows against the current center-left majority led by Premier Edi Rama, fueling voices of pressure at the highest levels of the media group.
The thin line between renewal and censorship
The first to pay for the renovation was Ylli Rakipi's investigative and political debate transmission "Te Paekspozuarit" (The Unexposed), which regularly hosted very well-known and very critical commentators, and which last December broadcast a formidable inquiry into two tenders with a total value of 30 million, awarded by the company DH Albania with false documentation. It was later discovered that behind the DH was Gener 2, one of the leading construction companies in the country, as well as, for a year, entered the media sector by opening a branch of CNN in Tirana. A case of corruption but also a sort of reminder, not even needed, to remind us of the thread that in this case also links companies and the media.
In short, after a season that remained in the news for one of the best surveys of the year, instead of being promoted, the transmission was suspended. And the same fate happened to the other two talk political and entertainment networks, these too are critical. News24 has in fact canceled "A Show", by the journalist Adi Krasta, of which however a series of vitriolic monologues will remain on the current situation of the country, become viral throughout the season.
And finally, even if we talked less about it, it seems that even the talk "Dritare" (Window) of the journalist and writer Rudina Xhunga, program on the air - on different channels - for twenty years.
If Krasta and Xhunga have maintained the utmost secrecy, Rakipi has instead talked about the regime, government pressure and intimidation of guests not to participate in the broadcast.
"No government, neither this nor the previous one, dared to put pressure on me," replied President Hysenbelliu for BIRN , rejecting every accusation and entrusting four first nights a week to a program always of political debate, but much more accommodating than the other three.
For its part, Rakipi has announced that its program will resume shortly at the less prestigious Syri TV, whose broadcasts - confirms the well-informed TV gossip of Tirana - are generously offered by the family of the former Premier and center-right leader Sali Berisha, to confirm the other direct line that links the media to politics.
Censorship or not, independence is lacking
"The final report of the ODIHR election evaluation mission on the administrative offices of 30 last June describes Top Channel and Klan TV, as favorable to the socialist government, while aligning News24 in favor of the opposition," notes OBCT Gjergj Erebara, editor of the section Albanian Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and always at the forefront in defense of press freedom.
According to the results of a report from the Monitor magazine on the revenue of the Albanian television stations in the 2018, data that confirm what emerged in a previous study on media concentration , Top Channel and Klan are the two main generalist television stations of the country that together control the 67% of the media market. Four of them, together with Vizion Plus and News24, fly over 84%.
"Although there is no evidence to suggest direct pressure from the government on News24 - continues Erebara - the fact that the last two programs critical of the government have been closed shows that we are in an unprecedented situation even by Albanian standards . In the past there were media for or against the government. Now the latter seem to be hiding ”.
To the concentration of the media in the hands of a few people, Erebara also adds the problem of "internal concentration of resources towards the." tabloidizzazione of the press ”, a turn towards superficial information and simple entertainment. An appeal, therefore, to "not only fear for the survival of the media, but for that of journalism itself".
It's also a business issue
"The biggest pressure the media faces is financial pressure. Albania today is a free country, where it is possible to express one's opinions openly, but the media are businesses, and supporting them is not easy in a reality where the advertising market is limited, while subscriptions and direct support of citizens do not seem to it worked ", says Fatoja Mejdini, a freelance journalist and author of a series of reports and surveys that have made school in Albanian journalism.
In such a context, the government assumes an increasingly important role for the press, says Mejdini. "If the government becomes the main advertiser, it is clear that the media will tend to line up."
Therefore, a loyalty to financing, which in a country where, starting from the 2000 years in particular, the interests of companies have completely redesigned the media framework, tends not to distinguish between right and left. In many cases, the press is an extension only complementary to the commercial activity, and it is the reason why many entrepreneurs find themselves to be ever closer to power, regardless of the parties that exercise it.
The same also applies to smaller companies, such as the over 800 news sites currently active in Albania, sometimes owned by journalists themselves. "Their revenues also depend on advertising and companies do not exactly line up to support sites that produce independent information. This is why the most courageous examples of journalism come from non-profit media, supported by foreign donors, "explains Mejdini.
Censorship is in the air
As difficult as it is to speak of censorship every time - too much is the unsaid of the Albanian journalists for not arriving at plausible conclusions - the situation of the press in the country seems in any case to deteriorate, as confirmed also bylast report of Reporters Without Borders, which saw Albania retreat from 7 positions in the freedom of expression index, ranking 82 ° among 160 countries, mainly due to the insults, threats and judicial proceedings put in place with the intent to intimidate journalists.
The economic interests of the owners on the one hand, the relations with the government on the other, and in the midst of the same journalists who are aware of the affairs of their publishers decide not to go against them. "It's a climate that produces a lot of self-censorship, where trying to dig deeper could often make him lose his job," says Mejdini.
And Erebera still warns about self-censorship, intimidation and ever more direct threats, which also creep into the staff, stressing that journalists are subject to pressure from publishers even if they inform on their social networks about the facts that do not arrive on the screens.
"Talking to journalists, their impression is that the government regularly monitors their personal accounts in social networks. Once again, these are difficult facts to prove, but the very existence of such a feeling among journalists - Erebara concludes bitterly - is enough to lead them to self-censorship ”.