|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.