BIRN: The Turkey-Albania agreement could strengthen Erdogan's propaganda in the Albanian media

BIRN: The Turkey-Albania agreement could strengthen Erdogan's propaganda in

Albania and Turkey signed an agreement on "media and communication" on Tuesday during the visit of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to Turkey. The Media Cooperation Protocol was signed by the director of the Albanian Public Television, RTSH, Alfred Peza, and by Zahid Sobaci, the director of the Turkish public television, TRT.

"This protocol aims to further improve the cooperation between the two televisions. Specifically, participants will gain the right to broadcast radio and television programs free of charge or with a fee for a certain license period, or exchange programs free of charge" , says a RTSH press release.

"Both TV stations... will also participate, mutually and according to their capabilities and capabilities, in radio and television festivals, competitions and cultural shows in each other's countries," he added.

But Abdullah Sencer Gozubenli, an expert on Balkan politics from Abo Akademi University in Finland, told BIRN that the deal could result in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's propaganda being exported through TRT to Albania.

" We have seen this before in North Macedonia when a TV channel, MRT 4, broadcast TRT shows, especially news about world politics. This allowed the (ethnic) Turks of North Macedonia to see the world through the lens of Erdogan's Islamic political ideology. This means a direct export of political ideology" , said Gozubenli.

Gozubenli added that the cooperation may seem normal between two common public broadcasters of two countries that have close relations, but the Turkish-Albanian case is different.

" Both public broadcasters, especially Turkey's TRT, are not ordinary public broadcasters. Instead, they are propaganda tools of the two governments ," said Gozubenli.

Albania's RTSH has faced a lot of criticism, starting with the way its head Alfred Peza, a former deputy of the ruling Socialist Party, was appointed, and for its objectivity and impartiality. RTSH is widely seen as the mouthpiece of the Rama government.

The OSCE/ODHIR report on local elections in Albania in 2019 raised such concerns. "RTSH remains partially dependent on state funding. Dependence on the state budget and the politicization of RTSH management raise concerns about the impartiality of the public broadcaster", the report states.

Turkey's TRT has faced similar criticism for a lack of impartiality. "TRT is a propaganda tool that has been instrumentalized by an Islamic regime led by Erdogan in which media freedoms suffer greatly," said Gozubenli.

TRT has become an important tool for Erdogan during his 22-year rule in Turkey, at home and abroad. Currently, it broadcasts in several languages, including Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Albanian, Macedonian and Bulgarian. In 2022, TRT launched another branch called TRT Balkan which focuses on the region in regional languages ​​as well as English.

Before the agreement with Albania, Turkey signed a similar agreement with Serbia in 2022.

Blerjana Bino, from Safe Journalist Albania, said that there is a lack of transparency about the agreement with Turkey and it is not clear what the benefit will be for the public.

"The statute of RTSH determines... that the Governing Council must approve the development strategy of RTSH and the relations of RTSH with third parties inside and outside the country", emphasized Bino. "It is not clear whether this cooperation agreement has been approved by the RTSH Governing Council" , Bino told BIRN.

She agreed on the risk of "strengthening propaganda or strategic communication for political and geopolitical purposes of foreign actors, such as Turkey."

"The main issue is what kind of products will be sent to Albania and what will be their content. There are major concerns that they will be politically motivated programs. Societies in the Balkans, especially Muslims, are being polarized as for or against Erdogan, and in this situation an important 'Erdoganist' apparatus comes into play", underlined Gozubenli.

In 2023, Albania was ranked 96th in the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, RSF. Turkey was in 165th place.

"Authoritarianism is gaining ground in Turkey, challenging media pluralism. All possible means are used to undermine critics," RSF said.

In its latest report on Albania's progress towards EU membership, the European Commission said that "no progress" had been made on media freedom. Reporter.al 

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