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Hate Speech, Propaganda and Disinformation in Albanian Media

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Models of hate speech or hate narratives are not obviously visible in Albanian media. Even though the media is rarely active in fighting hate speech in the country, it cannot be said that it is a source of hate speech or that it is actively promoting it. Politicians often push hate speech narratives, which the media publishes or reflects, provoking protest from some human rights organizations. This hate speech is mostly directed within the political sphere and towards personalities, as a reflection of the highly unethical public debate ongoing in the country for many years, but it can sometimes also affect other groups, based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, origin within the country, etc.

On the other hand, something online media are responsible for is the comments section on their websites, which often lack moderation of any kind. In most cases, these sections are an open invitation for readers to express all their hate, frustration, and opposition, not so much against the article, but the journalist, or even the persons the article is focused on. Seen as a highly problematic current trend of online media, this has been used as a justification for proposing legislation that has been considered as vague at best and restrictive at worst.

Contrary to hate speech narratives, which are rarely present, attempts to misinform and spread propaganda are a constant trend in the Albanian media. A very small category of existing online media is clearly under the influence of foreign countries. It engages in spreading their propaganda, putting their achievements and foreign policy in a very favorable light, or continually putting down their opponents, often engaging in the revision of history and referring to biased sources. This situation is also facilitated by the lack of requirement for online media to register and be transparent on their contacts, funding or policies.

While the furthering of foreign propaganda is confined to a limited number of media, the use of conspiracy theories and sensationalism to further media popularity, unfortunately, is not. Few online media outlets have escaped the trend of publishing conspiracy theories, which turned into a frenzy especially with the emergence of the coronavirus. Even television stations, which are supposed to have more filters and be more responsible about their content, have intensified this kind of coverage. Proponents of conspiracy theories are readily present in a few television stations in their main current affairs programmes, amplifying these theories and information, which leads to an increasingly greater influence on the public, especially given the lack of programmes or education on media literacy.

The degree of freedom in the online media does not correspond to an equal degree of professional responsibility on their part. In addition, even though television channels are more regulated and are under greater supervision from the regulatory authority, they also are far from engaging in professional self-inspection of their practices and self-regulating accordingly. It remains to be seen whether current self-regulation efforts in the country will impact the situation positively.

Examples: Influence and propaganda from other countries in the Albanian media

The phenomenon of influence from other countries on the Albanian media has not been strongly visible, at least compared to other countries in the region, mainly due to Albania’s history and also various geopolitical interests. In 2018, a news article was published claiming that the Greek Government had established a secret fund that was used to pay Albanian associations, journalists, and media, to further Greek interests in Albania, but this was later exposed as fake news, made up from a personal blog. However, in recent years, it can be said that various online media exhibit increasing closeness and affiliation to other countries, mainly Turkey and Iran. While these are not necessarily influential or highly popular media, they do present hate narratives or publish propaganda content favouring foreign countries and denigrating their rivals or political opponents. Although by no means an exhaustive list, the following is a short description of some of the media that have been identified in this category.

Gazeta Impakt is an online news portal covering general news. This media outlet lacks any impressum and is not retrievable in the database of the National Business Center, nor is there any information on staff, registration, contact details, or editorial policy. Almost all the articles are signed as Gazeta Impakt, apart from few republications of foreign journalists. What sets this outlet apart from most other media outlets is especially its pro-Islamic and pro-Iranian stance. The main format is that of online posts and news, but Gazeta Impakt also has almost weekly video programmes. Gazeta Impakt has a strong emphasis on exposing what it claims is Islamophobia in Albania, and in covering news from the Muslim population all over the world. They have a special section on their website called Islamophobia, where they report on Albanian or foreign personalities who express dissenting opinions on what they consider symbols of Islam. This section is rather descriptive, mainly publishing the statements, but the fact that all those quoted are labelled as Islamophobes reveals the stance of the newsroom.

Since 2016, part of the Iranian opposition movement the MEK has been permitted to build their camp and live in Albania. The MEK is a constant target of Gazeta Impakt, which treats it in line with the Iranian regime, as a terrorist group. Furthermore, their narrative often depicts the MEK as a dangerous group for Albania and the population near their camp. They have reported that the MEK will spread coronavirus in Albania, or that Albania might become a target of Iranian missiles due to the presence of MEK members. Likewise, Gazeta Impakt also exposes and targets any public figures that become part of MEK activities.

A similar news portal is eperditshmja.com [daily.com], which is influenced by and often reports on developments in Turkey. The impressum on the media outlet’s web page contains a phone number and a general newsroom e-mail, but no information at all on the staff or the newsroom. The reports are not signed, while the editorials by are a mix of foreign and Albanian authors, including Turkish ones. The only description of the medium is the following: “ePerditshmja.com is an independent online newspaper which aims to establish a new trend in online media, adhering rigorously to the true principles of journalism and the highest values of Albanian society.”

Frequently, the website’s lead articles come from Turkey, which is an unusual practice, as the news stories on the region or world are usually further down the page in Albanian media. For example, on 23 July 2020, among the ten top news stories that appeared first on the page, three of them were related to the reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque and the reactions that followed, Turkey’s right and power to search for gas in the Mediterranean, and how Turkey provided 29% of global humanitarian aid in 2019. These are all news stories, the primary source of which is the official Turkish news agency Anadolu Agency, and they all cast a favourable light on Turkey and tend to depict it as a powerful actor in the region and the world acting in its own legitimate right. Eperditshmja.com also often includes news from the same agency on Turkey’s support or sponsorship of other Balkan countries, such as in North Macedonia, or even more generally, on aid Turkey has distributed regarding coronavirus, and statements of Erdogan and other Turkish government officials are frequently present, perhaps even more than statements of the Albanian Government.

Similarly to Eperditshmja.com, Frekuenca.net is significantly influenced by Turkish sources and pro-Erdogan and pro-Muslim propaganda. Their ownership status is not retrievable in the Albanian business register. While the general news is not that different from other Albanian media, their analysis section shows marked pro-Turkish and pro-Muslim influence. For example, the editor recently has criticized those who expressed disappointment at the re-conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, claiming that the debate is one-sided as no one mentions the mosques converted into churches over the years. These pieces often present a sort of historical revisionism or the newsroom’s perception of history, stating among other things that the “Ottoman army liberated” countries and then turned the churches into mosques as a symbolic act and never forcefully, and considering the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque a return to its own identity. Some of these editorials are also re-published from eperditshmja.com. This media outlet also often includes republications from Anadolu Agency, featuring news from Turkey, mainly with a positive narrative for the Turkish Government and other aspects of Turkish life. Frekuenca.net also often publishes negative coverage, mainly from Anadolu Agency, on the movement of Fetulah Gulen (FETO) and the successful fight of the Turkish Government against this movement’s terrorist acts.

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