As of December 31, 1998

The financial and social chaos sparked by the collapse of nationwide pyramid schemes in 1997 contributed to the downfall of President Sali Berisha and the victory of the Socialist Party in June of that year. While the new government brought some political and social stability to the country, the relative calm ended in August 1998, when the crisis in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo in the neighboring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia spilled over into Albanian politics.

Berisha, whose Democratic Party (PD) has actively supported the rebel Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), played on the Kosovo issue to undermine the government of Prime Minister Fatos Nano. On September 14, Berisha and his supporters attempted to stage a coup d'état, occupying the parliament and the state radio and television buildings. Unable to form a new cabinet, Nano resigned and was succeeded by the 31-year-old Socialist Party Secretary General Pandeli Majko.

The tumultuous environment has polarized Albania's print media, which has split along party lines. Those publications that remained independent, most notably the newspapers Koha Jone and Gazeta Shqiptare, saw their circulation dip by 33 percent. The independent newspaper Dita Informacion folded for financial reasons, while the PD papers Rilindja Demokratike and Albania slightly increased their circulation.

Violence against journalists has been part of the generally lawless environment that has prevailed since the pyramid scheme revelations. A bomb blast in May at the home of Koha Jone's Vlora correspondent, Zenepe Luka, injured her two young sons. The attack came soon after a PD rally at which guards refused access to Luka – whose reporting has cast a negative light on Berisha's political maneuverings – and threatened her.

Several new private radio and television stations in the northern part of the country were unhampered by licensing requirements until October, when a new law on electronic media took effect, regulating the licensing of private media outlets and the transfer of state-owned Albanian television to public ownership. The private local television stations TV Teuta, TV Arberia, and TV Shijak, which had broadcast mostly entertainment programs, started producing their own news and public affairs programs. An independent, parliament-appointed National Council on Radio and Television decides on the eligibility of stations to receive licenses, while a telecommunications regulatory body grants broadcasting frequencies. In a climate of crime and corruption, the survival of private media outlets will most probably depend on their affiliation with those in power and with influential economic groups.

Attacks on the Press in Albania in 1998

05/10/98Zenepe Luka, Koha JoneAttacked

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