Coverage of the Macedonian Conflict in Albanian Media:
A Balanced Stand
By Llazar Semini
The fear from the idea of a “Greater Albania” and the general elections problems have kept the Albanian media in a very balanced coverage of the dangerous conflict in the neighboring Macedonia.
The five-month long conflict has found a significant place in the Albanian media, be it either the electronic or printed ones. There are a lot of reasons for such an important attention attached to them. The main one, of course, is the ethnic Albanian community whose existence has been at stake at certain points in time.
The other remembrance for the Albanians is the wave of the Kosovo refugees, almost half a million, who found a welcoming accommodation first by the local population and then by the government and the international institutions. Another wave of refugees would be disastrous for the fragile Albanian economy and the still low level of income with the population.
Another very important reason is Albania’s international image. The threat posed by the idea of a “Greater Albania” does not exist in the minds of the common Albanians and despite saying that they do support the demands of their brethren in Macedonia not many would really accept a unification of the Balkans’ Albanian population.
But a very determining reason crucially influential on the editorial policy depends on the financial means. A decade after the fall of the Communist regime, the Albanian media are still much in need of financial support and lacking adequate resources.
All Albanian newspapers and television stations acknowledge that the main reason for a failure of an on-the-spot coverage of the conflict is the lack of the financial support from the owners. “It would not be that easy for any media institution in the country to send its correspondent to the area and have news and stories from the hot ground,” says Teodor Misha, editor-in-chief of the business magazine Albanian Observer. “You do understand the money needs we have every day. It is evident from the number of the staff we have at our disposal,” said two editors from the Koha Jone daily. Besides this, everything is justified by the fact that everyone is now subscribed to international news agencies, such as Reuters.
With a few exceptions, there are no correspondents in Macedonia. At the beginning of the conflict, some journalists were sent there for short periods of time. But no more. The money rescue source – the Internet - is a good resource for everyone at the moment.
But there could be another reason beyond that. “Based on the fact that there have not been as many victims as in Bosnia or Kosovo (excluding the case of two Albanians killed by the Macedonian soldiers in Tetovo with a shocking coverage by international television channels) and the war resembling more of a Hollywood movie battle, the media reaction has been more rational than emotional,” says Lutfi Dervishi, editor-in-chief of an Albanian daily newspaper.
The general elections held on June 24 and its month-long electoral campaign were much more interesting for the Albanians. And not only that. In many cases, even ministers and the government either forgot or paid no attention at all even in cases when its citizens were bullied by the Macedonian police. “We have continued our work in the diplomatic sense but not much was publicized as not the proper attention would be paid to it,” said a foreign ministry official.
Worth mentioning is the fact that the political groupings running in the elections did not touch on the Macedonian conflict at all and showed no concern for the Albanian population there. To be sure, this does not mean that they paid no attention. Probably an electoral pact could have been agreed, even in silence. No one would gain anything, not even any more votes from any stand on the conflict. Moreover, the emotional campaign could take the words to dangerous heights at a time when Albania and its government have gained credit from the international community for its impartial and democratic policy on the conflict.
Nevertheless the flare-up of the conflict in the last days has increasingly attracted attention and it has been ranked as top news by television stations and newspaper headlines.
“As for the events in Macedonia, the Albanian media has generally relied to the news agencies such Reuters, AFP, or AP. There has been a fair and no-cover-page story,” said Dervishi. “NATO refuses to disarm UCK (NLA)”, “UCK publishes the peace plan,” reported his newspaper Albania on June 15 and the other daily Shekulli published the same story, “Robertson: We shall disarm the UCK”. It is a briefing of different stories from the news agencies and there is no comment at all. This is applied even when considering the UCK peace plan. “No, there is no fear from the ‘Greater Albania’ image. Does it really exist in our minds?” says Aleksander Cipa of Koha Jone. “But it is hard to comment from here.”
Bullying of the Albanian citizens by the Macedonian police has found a very ‘normal’ coverage in the newspapers. “Violence in Skopje continues, six bullied persons arrive in Tushemisht” (Shekulli, June 26). “Qafe Thane: the persons bullied do not sue: we have not received the salary. Other immigrants return beaten and offended by the Skopje police” (Shekulli, June 25).
The media pay much attention to the role of the international factor in the conflict. News on the movement of Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy commissioner, and George Robertson, NATO Secretary General, will be found every day in the newspapers. Any interview they have given to other news agencies or newspapers will immediately find its place in the Albanian newspapers too. “The future of Macedonia – wholeheartedness and dialogue, not violence,” the Korrieri newspaper reports on Robertson’s interview on June 20th.
Even the Koha Jone, with a local correspondent in Skopje, does not make much commentary on the news. “Trajkovski: All Albanian problems should be resolved here” (June 15), “Macedonians do not accept change of constitution” (June 17).
Of course the Albanian media have paid attention to the acts of ethnic hatred in the Macedonian conflict. “Arming up of the Macedonian civilians, petrol to the fire” writes Shekulli, June 17. “Macedonian paramilitaries break the parliament,” says a cover page title of Albania, June 26. There is no comment to denounce such acts. Everything is left to the very impartial words published by different news agencies. “Macedonia - the application of the agreement to begin, UCK withdraws from Haracine, NATO troops replace them,” writes the relaxed Korrieri, June 26.
Much more attention has been paid to the conflict between the Albanian television stations, the public and the private ones. Even in the height of the electoral campaign or on the voting day, the current events in Macedonia always had the second ranking in the news. Moreover, they are also accompanied with the views from the area.
Daily television stations report on the fate of the refugees and the plight of the Albanian population in the villages in the armed conflict areas.
“I have spent many hours monitoring all the international television news in order to provide a very grounded and balanced coverage of the crisis,” says Aferdita Sokoli of the public television. “With urgent stories, I follow the rule of impartiality.”
All channels will start foreign news programs with the Macedonian events, or sometimes following Albania’s most important election results stories, they will cover at length the ethnic dispute in the neighboring country without expressing any nationalistic views. A private channel, Tele Arberia has also held some talk shows with various guest personae making some very open and delicate comments on how the conflict could expand and what the prospects are. Memories of the Kosovo war are not dead, urging the analysts to call for peace and not violence, while also inducing the international community to interfere as soon as possible, until not too much blood is shed.
“To date, the media in Albania have been balanced in covering the crisis in Macedonia. They have avoided taking nationalistic positions and have relied more or less on international sources,” says Robert Austin, a Canadian historian and Albanian analyst, University of Toronto, on a research trip in Albania.
Following a decade of wars in former Yugoslavia, especially that in Kosovo and the thousands of victims and the miserable consequences on half a million refugees they saw with their own eyes, the Albanian media have shown reluctance on the one side and maturity on the other in prophesying that the solution of the Macedonian ethnic conflict is not to be reached through use of weapons. They cannot accept that the Skopje government attacks villages populated by other civilians besides extremists. This could have grave consequences on both sides as well as on the prolongation of the conflict.
But the Albanian media have also understood that a moderate stand that the major western powers are trying to impose in Macedonia also helps building their image in the world. A contrary to this would not be of much help for their brethren in Macedonia. “This balanced stand also shows the maturity of young reporters and editors too. They know inciting hatred will not help anyone,” says Remzi Lani of the Albanian Media Institute.
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