Albania’s Union of Journalists says media owners routinely fail to pay reporters on time and so further erode the media’s independence.“Many newspapers and TV stations are failing to pay reporters for months at a time and the situation has got worse over the past year,” Aleksander Cipa, head of the union, told Balkan Insight.
“Public trust in the media is eroding and the dominant perception is that the media has been usurped by business interests,” he added.
On Sunday the union said that according to data collected from its members, 20 of 25 daily papers based in Tirana are late in paying employees’ salaries, most of them with delays of two months.
The situation in television is even worse, it added, with 17 of 18 broadcasters delaying payments of reporters by up to two or three months.
The World Press Freedom Index, released by the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders in January, underlined that the economic crisis has accentuated the media’s problems in the Balkans.
During the past year Albania dropped from 80th to 96th place in the media freedom index, becoming the second-worst performer in the region after Montenegro.
According to the 2012 Freedom of the Press report, published by the US-based watchdog group, Freedom House, Albanian media outlets typically rely on financial support from owners and a few major advertisers, and self-censorship is common.
“Outlets often display a strong political bias and their reporting is influenced by the economic or political interests of their owners,” the report said.
A study by Albania’s Media Institute in 2011, on trends in the media in post-communist Albania, said about 90 per cent of the journalists work without contracts and owners can easily exert pressure on them.
“Quality journalism is difficult to achieve in situations where journalists are often deprived of their rights,” the report said. “Labour relations continue to be the main problem for journalists,” it added.
Cipa said that is some extreme cases reporters are defrauded outright by indebted media owners, who, after leaving journalists for months without pay, replace them with journalism students or apprentices.
The union called on tax authorities and the inspectorate of the Ministry of Labour to act, describing the situation as the worst that journalists have faced in the past decade.
“Media owners have become irresponsible in their treatment of their employers, totally disregarding the labor code,” Cipa said.
“Unfortunately they are benefiting from a lack of courage on the part of journalists to react and protest against such treatment,” he concluded.