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News 01 Jun 17

Albanian Broadcaster Strives for Neutral Stance in Election

Albania's public broadcaster, RTSH, long seen as the biased mouthpiece of governments, seems to be making a real effort to behave more professionally during this election campaign.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
RTSH headquarter in Tirana. Photo: Wikimedia Common/TorbjornS

Albania's Public Broadcaster, RTSH, has vowed to maintain political balance in its reporting of the election campaign, raising hopes among media experts that the standard of information might change for good.

On Tuesday, the general director of RTSH, Thoma Gellci, suspended the director of the broadcaster's branch in Gjirokastra, following reports of unbalanced reporting against the opposition parties.

The electoral code demands balanced reporting on the part of broadcasters during campaigns and the country's media monitoring board had sent a proposal to the Central Election Commission to fine television stations that do not balance the time they award to different political options.

On May 23, RTSH significantly decided to not transmit any campaign footage coming from the political parties themselves in news editions, pledging to cover all such activities with its own journalists.

"Putting such footage in news editions violates ... the law that demands a clear division between advertisements and information and a halt to hidden advertising," an announcement read.

Iris Luarasi, a lecturer in journalism at Tirana University, told BIRN that the suspension of the local TV director was something to be welcomed.

"This also might be strategically good PR for RTSH," Luarasi said, noting also "the improvement to the content" of most of its news programmes.

However, Luarasi emphasised that the public broadcaster still has only limited audience, adding that restoring its public image would take time and effort.

"Time is needed for the public television to regain its audience, but with effort and goodwill, the process could be accelerated," she suggested.

RTSH has long been seen as a mouthpiece of various governments during the long post-communist transition period in Albania.

It is accused of nepotism and of lacking much in terms of programme quality.

Last May, however, a new general director was appointed after almost five years of temporary appointees.

The process was long and saw many delays since the law on Audiovisual Media of April 2013 insists that a majority of at least seven of the 11 board members must elect a general director.

The law, pushed by the OSCE and the European Commission offices in Tirana, required a qualitative majority of the RTSH steering board to elect a new, consensual director, uninfluenced by political parties.

The board made up of members proposed by civil society groups and elected by the Parliament according to a formula: five candidates supported by the majority and five by the opposition and the chairman elected in a separate process by a simple majority at the Parliament.

After a long stalemate, the representatives of the ruling parties changed the law in February 2016, making it possible for the RTSH general director to be elected with the simple majority of only six votes, in four rounds, if a qualified majority was not achieved in three.

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