Media freedoms in Western Balkan countries must improve in order to achieve EU accession, EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said on November 9 at the Western Balkan Media Days 2017 conference held in the Albanian capital Tirana.
The European Commission is constantly monitoring the challenges and obstacles journalists are facing in Western Balkans and these observations are reflected directly in its country reports. Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental values of the European Union, but Western Balkan countries are frequently criticised in reports for their lack of reforms in the media sector. The six Western Balkan countries, (Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo) are all at different stages in the EU integration process. So far only Serbia and Montenegro have managed to start the EU accession talks. However, a recent study showed that only Macedonia is projected to meet the EU accession criteria by 2023.
Speaking at the conference, Hahn mentioned some essential highlights from the European Commission analysis such as cases of violence and intimidation against journalists as well as a wide misuse of defamation lawsuits to hinder the work of critical journalists.
“We have alerted our partners in the Western Balkans about malfunctioning media and advertising markets undermining independent reporting. Moreover, for a number of years, the unaccounted use of public funds in media allowing for suspect political bias has been highlighted in our country reports,” Hahn said, according to the statement published on his website.
According to Hahn, another area where media can actively contribute to improvements are the ethnic tensions in the region. “It is evident that they (ethnic tensions) are generated by politicians to serve a certain political agenda. But these tensions can be reinforced – or reduced – through the reporting of media,” Hahn underlined.
Hahn noted that the environment for media in the Western Balkans is extremely challenging due to persisting political pressure, rapidly changing markets and consumer habits.
“The Commission will continue to provide support for an improvement of the media environment, through constant monitoring and concrete assistance programmes. But there is also work that can be done by the media themselves: get ready for change!” Hahn concluded.