Media behaviour during elections in Albania: A matter of political agenda or clickbait for e-traffic?
Author: Xhenson Cela
Media has a pivotal role in a democratic society. Often, it is rightfully labelled as the fourth power leverage in a political system along with the Judiciary, Legislative and Executive powers. On the one hand, it has a remarkable influence in mediating the public opinion to the political party, delivering messages and presenting through its tools of information political programs and alternatives. Most importantly, it shapes the public opinion mindset and behaviour toward their political choice. On the other hand, media can construct a toxic environment, manipulate the constituencies, and lever power to the advantage of one political side.
The case of two televisions
The electoral campaign has officially started on the 23rd of March. In order to monitor and analyze the orientation of media, whether on the traffic for clickbait or towards political preferences, this article considers two media channels in Albania and their content production during a random day. Thus, I have decided to monitor Top-Channel and Syri on the 5th of April 2021. Based on the approach, either to the government or the opposition, they publish on daily basis articles or news reports of the same stories or facts but argue on opposite sides. In such a chaotic environment, the public opinion is interested in whether the media has a political agenda, political control, and preferences, or is interested in generating visitors for marketing purposes? These two channels were selected based on a few premises, such as their ground, past agendas, and editorials in charge. Syri television is well-known for its extensive critics, tone, and approach toward the government. Whereas, Top-Channel general chief editor has once been in the socialist party. Although he has run the party a few years ago, he currently works at Top-Channel and is well-known for his political view towards the largest opposition party in Albania.
During a single day, syri.al has published fifty-seven articles or news under the political label, whereas Top-Channel published forty-one. Both media platforms are active on political matters and have published similar topics from opposite angles depending on the public debate.
The monitoring considers four elements such as neutrality, the frequency the political party leaders are put in the headlines, and two sensitive scandals from that week, as well as sub-elements such as the tone and approach present in the content.
For instance, both media have written three and four neutral news articles and headlines that do not directly associate with the political agenda of either political parties in the election. Regarding the frequency of the leader or political party used in the headlines, Top-Channel has mentioned and promoted the Prime Minister around twenty-one times. In contrast, Syri has not paid enough attention and only referred to him two times. In comparison to Top-Channel, Syri has mentioned the leader of the Democratic Party and his running candidates around thirty-one times, and only eight times the electoral campaign of Mr. Edi Rama. Clearly, the media hasn’t proportionally dedicated excessive time to either one or the other campaign. Additionally, the approach and tone used strive to appeal to the position of either one or the other political party.
Hot spots for election coverage
Lastly, the article analyses the attention these two media have dedicated to two sensitive topics for public opinion. The first one is the scandal known as Beccheti. In a few words, the government was in an arbitration tribunal with Mr Francesco Beccheti, the AGON channel private television owner. The head of the government, Mr Rama, was under the charge of shutting down unfairly and illegally the AGON channel. After a few years, Mr. Beccheti won the case, and Albania is fined 170 million euros. Interesting is that Top-Channel did not cover any report on the 5th of April, while Syri has published seven articles in one day.
The second hot-pot issue focuses on the election voting system. The opposition has accused the Central Commission of Elections of enabling and adopting an electronic voting system that is infective and scandalous and favors the government, say the opposition party. Top-Channel has prepared and published eight news reports that inform the public of the functionality of the voting system and inadvertently counteract the accusation of the sceptics.
Indeed, media can play a significant role in providing a safe and sound equalizer amongst various political parties that often degrade their tone into aggressiveness. Additionally, media should construct mutual trust and act neutrally during all stages of the political campaigns. Nevertheless, media is often subject to control from the political structures, which hinder their balancing of political layers' opinions.
According to ms Eva Marku, journalist and reporter, the media in general and particular shows are politically oriented. However, this deprives them of the truth. Whereas according to mr Griseld Zenuni, a former local correspondent in Berat, media, besides being positioned in a critical role in representing the interest of politics, play a crucial role in dismantling or rebalancing the position of the political presence in the public discourse.
Moreover, during elections, almost all media platforms, both traditional and online, publish abundance of information. Many journalists fail to cope with journalistic ethics and thus cause backlash and conflict. Mr Zenuni adds, the media in Albania are closely bounded with the interest of political parties. They receive funds and privileges to broadcast political party's publicity spots on their channels. Hence, the media position itself on the side of political parties is a mutually beneficial relationship. National televisions have morally responsible and professional journalists that abide by ethics and regulations. In contrast, others intentionally or forced by the editor serve the interest of the sponsors or shareholders.
Furthermore, Ms Marku's opinion is that there are no unbiased media that report factual news or media without the support of external investors. Nevertheless, there are cases of tv shows that in a way report specific sensitive issues with public value. Lastly, Mr Zenuni ascertains independent media in Albania is possible only when the employers distinguish between media's mission to clearly and trustfully inform the public, rather than to serve investors' interest affiliated with particular political parties.
That said, we can conclude the media has even a decisive role in promoting successful electoral campaigns, takes sides and has political preferences. However, eventually it fails to promote unbiased reports or publish factual news without interpretations based on either one or the other political agenda. The cases above suggest the media are driven to write headlines, not for the sole purpose of generating visitors but to push forth political agendas. As a window of manifesting the public opinion, media constitute or constate an institution that builds the public trust, receive information, and shape opinions. This trust is linked to the trustworthiness of democratic institutions or the trustworthiness of one or other political party's campaign and electoral programs.