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RTSH and TRT sign cooperation deal, spread of propaganda feared
 23 Feb 2024
Albania and Turkey on Tuesday signed an agreement on “media and communications” during the course of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s visit to Turkey. The media Cooperation Protocol was signed by the head of Albanian Public Television, RTSH, Alfred Peza, and by Zahid Sobaci, head of Turkish public television, TRT.

“This protocol aims to further improve cooperation between the two televisions. Specifically, participants will acquire the rights to broadcast radio-television programs for free or against a fee for a certain license period, or exchange programs free of charge,” RTSH said in a press release.

“The two television stations will … [also] participate, mutually and according to their possibilities and abilities, in radio and TV festivals, competitions and cultural performances in each other’s countries,” it added.

But Abdullah Sencer Gozubenli, an expert on Balkan politics from Abo Akademi University in Finland, told BIRN that the agreement may result in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s propaganda being exported via TRT to Albania.

“We have previously seen this in North Macedonia when a TV channel, MRT 4, aired TRT shows, especially news on world politics. This allowed North Macedonia’s [ethnic] Turks to see the world through the lenses of Erdogan’s political Islamist ideology. This means a direct political ideology export,” Gozubenli said.

Gozubenli added that the cooperation may look normal between two ordinary public broadcasters of two countries that have close relationship, but the Turkish-Albanian case differs.

“Both public broadcasters, especially Turkey’s TRT, are not ordinary public broadcasters. Instead they are the propaganda tools of the [two] governments,” Gozubenli said.

Albania’s RTSH has faced a lot of criticism, starting from the way its head Alfred Peza, a former ruling Socialist MP, was appointed, and about its objectivism and impartiality. It is widely seen as a mouthpiece of the Rama government.

The OSCE/ODHIR report on Albania’s local elections in 2019 raised such concerns. “RTSH remains partially dependent on state funding. Dependence on the state budget and politicization of RTSH management raise concerns about the impartiality of the public broadcaster,” the report said.

Turkey’s TRT has met similar criticism, of not being impartial. “TRT is a propaganda tool that is instrumented by an Islamist regime [led by Erdogan] in which media freedoms suffer greatly,” Gozubenli said.

TRT has become an important tool for Erdogan during his 22-year rule in Turkey, both at home and abroad. It currently broadcasts in several languages, including Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Albanian, Macedonian and Bulgarian. In 2022, TRT launched another branch called TRT Balkan which focuses on the region in regional languages as well as English.

Before the agreement with Albania, Turkey signed a similar agreement with Serbia in 2022.

Blerjana Bino, from Safe Journalist Albania, said there is a lack of transparency about the agreement with Turkey and it is not clear what the benefit will be for the public.

“The statute of RTSH determines … that the Governing Council should approve the strategy for the development of RTSH and the relations of RTSH with third parties inside and outside the country,” Bino noted. “It is not clear if this cooperation agreement has been approved by the RTSH Governing Council,” Bino told BIRN.

She agreed about the risk of “amplifying propaganda or strategic communication for political and geopolitical purposes of foreign actors, such as Turkey”.

“The key is what kind of productions will be sent to Albania and what their content will be. There are significant concerns that they will be politically motivated programs. Societies in the Balkans, especially Muslims, are being polarized as pro or anti Erdogan and in this situation an important Erdoganist apparatus enters the game,” Gozubenli underlined.

In 2023, Albania was ranked in 96th place in the press freedom index compiled by international watchdog Reporters Without Borders, RSF. Turkey was in 165th position.

“Authoritarianism is gaining ground in Turkey, challenging media pluralism. All possible means are used to undermine critics,” RSF said.

In its most recent report on Albania’s progress towards EU accession, the European Commission said that “no progress” had been made in terms of media freedom.
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