Capable investigative journalists operating within a framework of an independent and open media are key to exposing and eliminating the culture of corruption that continues to persist in Albania. The EWMI’s USAID Justice for All Project (JfA), which has been working to build both an independent and transparent judiciary and a strong and independent media since March 2016, is leveraging the impact of its programming through a partnership with the Government of the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that will result in strengthened media integrity standards in Albania. USAID and the FCO have now signed three memoranda of understanding (MOUs) to collaborate in the area of strengthening journalistic skills in Albania, contributing to USAID’s overall goal of promoting a more just and transparent governance sector in the country, and contributing to Albania’s journey to self-reliance.
The Albanian media sector faces a multitude of challenges, including a lack of experience in engaging in investigative journalism, underdeveloped basic journalistic skills, inadequate knowledge of the functioning of the justice system, and the dissemination of false and misleading information (“fake news”). USAID’s JfA program has been addressing these issues by providing skills training to journalists, providing grants in support of investigative initiatives, and establishing a fact-checking service (Faktoje). The collaboration with the FCO has enabled USAID to significantly expand the scope of its work in these areas.
The first of three MOUs between USAID and FCO, signed in November 2018, provided JfA with the funding to lay the groundwork for a bachelor's level 14-week curriculum for Court and Crime Reporting/Legal Correspondent at the University of Tirana, Department of Journalism. The curriculum was designed to strengthen the skills of young reporters in court and crime reporting and raise their capacity by fully understanding the legal system. Following this successful collaboration, a second MOU enabled JfA to organize a regional conference in Tirana in June 2019 entitled, Disinformation: Facing the Facts in the Balkans and Beyond. Some 70 journalists, media experts, fact-checkers and students from Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Malta, Italy, Ukraine, the US and the UK attended the three day the conference to discuss regional approaches to and primary challenges to fact-checking, legal provisions and implications of regional legal frameworks to freedom of media, media capture and ownership, media regulation and self-regulation; media literacy tools to detect and validate disinformation and fake news, and how to use those tools to ensure a better understanding of information; and election reporting techniques.
The current MOU, running from July 2019 through March 2020, will further support the establishment of improved teaching skills in areas such as digital reporting, crime and justice reporting, investigative reporting, and countering dis-information at both the masters and bachelors level at the University of Tirana, and will also support training in these areas to practicing journalists, including supporting collaboration with counterparts in the UK. Finally, the expanded project also includes a focus on promoting equality of women journalists.
The ongoing collaboration between the US and UK governments means that both governments can better help Albania create a strong and independent media, needed so that Albanian citizens are better informed concerning corruption and the rule of law, and to enable courageous journalists to expose and counter the twin scourges of corruption and misinformation that continue to threaten democracy and economic development in this dynamic, struggling country.