Almost 100% of political news reported by Albanian public television (ATV) was based on public relations sources, or materials produced by government institutions and political parties, according to empirical research conducted during Albania’s 2013 parliamentary elections. The study, by the Department of Journalism and Communication at the University of Tirana, with OSCE support, also showed that 85% of economic news on ATV, and 38% of social news, came from official PR or government sources.
In Albania public sector broadcasting is run by the RTSH (Albanian Radio-television) and includes one national television network, ATV (or TVSH), and three regional television networks. ATV holds the formal status of public television, but more closely resembles a state television channel. It has broadcast official propaganda since the the fall of communism. The national network is dependant upon political and government interests because members of its governing body, the National Council of Albanian Public Radio-Television, are elected by parliament, which is dominated by parties in power.
Journalists are expected to ‘summarise’ the official news
The University of Tirana’s research focussed upon ATV’s main news edition. Broadcast daily at 8 pm, the program is produced by the Department of Information. The program mainly consists of political news, and covers state and political leaders’ official activities, including visits, media statements, interviews and meetings. The amount of information taken from press releases and government PR announcements is particularly obvious when political events are reported. Usually all a journalist is expected to do is to summarise the “official” main news within a specified time.
During the pre-election period, as well as during the election campaign, political reports dominate the main newscast and the headlines. Political coverage is rarely mixed with stories about culture, sports or world events.
Researchers monitored newscasts in 2013
Researchers monitored the 8pm news program, to understand its structure. For example, on May 7th, 2013, during the pre-election campaign period, it consisted of:
-Main headlines: 20.00 – 20 .03 – 3 minutes
Then reports about:
-Politics: 20.04 – 20 .20’14 – 16 minutes and 14 seconds
-Social: 20.20’15 – 20.28’45 – 8 minutes and 30 seconds
-Local: 20.28’46 – 20.30’08 – 1 minute and 22 seconds
-World: 20.30’09 – 20.32 – 1 minute and 51 seconds
-Culture: 20.32 – 20.35’50 – 3 minutes and 50 seconds
-Sports: 20.35’50 – 20.36’50 – 1 minute
As can be seen, politics occupied about half of the main news program, but during the election campaign this percentage increased dramatically, to about 86%.
According to the research findings, of this 86%, nearly half (42%) of political reports reproduce a press release, whereas 57% are based on other PR source materials. From a topical point of view, 68% of political news consist of reports about official activities or inaugurations, and 18% are news reports about meetings, declarations or interviews of political leaders and representatives.
The same pattern can also be observed for the news programs of the other national TV channels. According to research findings, about 65% of the political news reports broadcast by other TV channels reproduce political press releases or other PR source materials.
Most news reports are political marketing, original journalistic reporting is rare
These and other data mentioned above, uncover a situation in which mass-media reporting in Albania is actually serving the strategies of political marketing and the PR of political parties, both in power or in opposition. The absolute prevalence of political news, especially during election campaigns is also a proof of this political inclination. The main news sources are PR offices and most news reports appear as political marketing events. Original journalistic reporting is a rare phenomenon. This situation is especially serious when taking into account that ATV is Albania’s only national public television channel.