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OSCE Presence in Albania and Albanian Media Institute organized on 9 December 2013 a roundtable, as a first step to open a wide discussion on "Reforming of the Public Broadcaster".

The roundtable was attended by members of the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Information Media, representatives of Audiovisual Media Authority, directors of Public Broadcaster departments, editors of Albanian media and media experts.

Robert Wilton, Deputy Head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, Remzi Lani, Director of Albanian Media Institute, Milena Harito, Minister of Innovation and Public Information Means, Genc Pollo, Chair of Parliamentary Committee for Education and Public Information Means and Alfred Peza, deputy chair of Education and Public Information Means addressed the roundtable. OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media (RFOM) participated in the discussion through its representatives, Dr. Juan Barata, Principal Adviser and Mr. Frane Maroevic, Senior Advisor.

Mr. Josip Popovac, Secretary General of the European Association of Public Media in Southeast Europe and Mrs. Sandra B. Hrvatin, professor at the University of Ljubljana shared experiences of Croatian and Slovenian media in their transformation into public media.

Albanian media experts as Lutfi Dervishi (Vizion Plus TV), Iris Luarasi (University of Tirana), Ilda Londo (AMI) and Mirela Oktrova, Director of Albanian Television made presentations of the actual situation of the public broadcaster in Albania, its challenges towards the futures and their visions in reforming it.

In his opening speech, Deputy Head of OSCE Presence in Albania, Mr. Wilton underlined the importance of the round-table discussion on reforming the Public Broadcaster at precisely the time when proceedings for the new members of its Steering Board are ongoing. The OSCE Presence stands ready to provide a platform for different actors to discuss and provide expertise - together with the Office of the OSCE's Representative on Freedom of Media - to design a framework for a modern Public Broadcaster in Albania," he said, also reminding that broad political consensus and commitment is a fundamental requirement to implement this project.

Albanian Media Institute's Lani added that the final goal of any reformation of the RTSH should be its transformation into a truly independent public broadcaster that represents the Albanian public and is only accountable to the Albanian public. "While the political rotation invoked promises of the depoliticizing of ART, mandates of the governing council have expired and there is no time to waste about the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting", Mr. Lani underlined.

In her intervention, Minister Harito noted that the government's strategy in regards to this sphere is to strengthen the freedom of media, ensure the pluralism of the electronic media, depoliticise the public regulatory body of these media, support the digital switchover by all means, and reform the public broadcaster, in order to make it a tool to develop and strengthen democracy, and also serve the cultural and social wellbeing of the Albanian people in conformity with the Protocol on Public Service Broadcasting to the Amsterdam Treaty. The Public Broadcaster, she went on saying, needs to be accessible by every citizen; ensure and protect diversity; be independent in forming ideas and upholding them; last but not least it should be distinctive from the commercial broadcasters in all respects.

Chair of the Assembly on Education and Public Information Means, Mr. Genc Pollo (Democratic Party) focused its intervention into the fate of the Audio-visual Media Authority's top management, saying that depoliticization must not include the replacement of the members appointed during the past government with people close to the new government, or even worse, its media clients. "This would go against the principles of democracy and rule of law," said Pollo. "RTSH's audience has fallen to a dramatic figure of 9% of the market. There is a need for editorial independence and higher level of professionalism", he said. Deputy Chair of the Assembly on Education and Public Information Means, Mr. Alfred Peza (Socialist Party), noted that Albania de facto has no public broadcaster at present, for RTSH in his view is a monist-like broadcaster following capitalist interests; it is the largest public employer with 1000 jobs but also the public institution with the lowest performance; and despite its assets amounting 1 billion Euros it can hardly compete with the private broadcasters.

In his view, it is high time for a deep reformation of the public broadcaster, with the only aim of making it a true asset and instrument in the hands of the Albanian public.

The first panel discussion saw international experts discussing on European standards and models of Public Broadcaster. France Maroevic (OSCE-RFOM), moderator of this session underlined that it is impossible to say here is the model, as each country has its own specifics.

Mr. Josip Popovac, Secretary General of the European Association of Public Media in Southeast Europe shared experiences of Croatian state media in their transformation into public media. "The reform is a difficult process which has two lines: the structural and the editorial one. What is actually needed is a financing model that provides effective results", Mr. Popovac said.

"A public funding up to 80 per cent and advertising funding up to 20 per cent could be a good solution". "Public broadcasters provide services to citizens, regardless of their political influence; this is a valuable asset to the public", he underlined.

On the other hand, the Slovenian expert, Ms. Sandra Basic-Hrvatin, professor at the University of Ljubjana underlined that "all citizens should have access to the public broadcaster and this should be strongly supported by all parties". "The media regulation should not be left to the market; it is the state that should set the regulation conditions, in broad consultation with all stakeholders", she stressed.

The second panel discussion, focused on legislation in practice and challenges of management, professionalism and editorial independence. In this regards, Albanian experts mentioned as main challenges; freeing the public broadcaster from political interference, improving its editorial independence and securing a proper funding scheme.

As lack of editorial independence is the defining feature of the Public Broadcaster today in the public opinion. Full political will from all sides is needed in order to guarantee its independence in reporting, participants agreed. On the other side, a proper election and functioning of governing bodies is essential to the reform of the Public Broadcaster. The Assembly Committee on Education and Public Information Means has started the procedures of electing the new members of the Steering Board of the Public Broadcaster.

Experts underlined that transparency of the budget for the Public Broadcaster should improve. Reporting once a year to the parliament is not enough and a more open and systematic approach to public scrutiny should be adopted. It was suggested that the broadcaster could work on multi-year budgets rather than on annual budgets and planning, which make it dependent for some of its operations on the state. Other suggestions included exposing financial operations on the web, in order to increase in maximum the transparency of RTSH.

The impact of digitization on the performance of RTSH and its definition of a public mission was another topic of discussion. All speakers of the roundtable considered the switchover to digital broadcasting as an opportunity for RTSH to self-examine its programs and plan the switchover having in mind its public mission and serving all groups of society. There is an imminent need for quick action from the government and RTSH on building the digital networks for the Public Broadcaster.

As there has never been a professional, public discussion on the definition of the public mission of the broadcaster. This will have to be clarified with the new Statute of RTSH and other supporting documents. The public trust in TVSH needs to be rebuilt. This process is also an opportunity to include the public in defining what they want from their public broadcaster.

The professional level of the RTSH employees must be improved. At the moment, RTSH is also suffering the seniority of its employees, who often need training, especially in new technologies. The hiring system in RTSH should be improved. The professionals working for the broadcasters have the responsibility to behave as public servants, striving for highest professional and ethical standards.

As a conclusion, the overall approach to the reform of the Public Broadcaster has been fragmented and non-systematic. Many small changes have been undertaken so far, while a more comprehensive approach is needed in order to have a successful reform of RTSH.
Roundtable on reform of public broadcaster