It is a pleasure to be here with all of you dedicated journalists from across the region. I would especially like to acknowledge our keynote speakers. They have travelled great distances to share lessons learned from their titanic efforts working to forge a free and fact-based media, which we all know is an essential foundation of democracy. My sincere thanks also go to the British Embassy. Unified in partnership, together we strive to increase press freedom and strengthen investigative journalism in Albania.
Freedom of the press is a fundamental human right. An independent press fosters the vibrant debate essential to creating a free society in which citizens can respectfully express pluralistic viewpoints. It is often the only outlet for those who are otherwise marginalized or disenfranchised. At its best, the media ensures accountability — it informs citizens and inspires governments to serve their people in good faith. It safeguards our liberties.
In order to fulfill this watchdog role, the media needs to speak the truth. Propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation threaten open and independent media everywhere in the world. These phenomena can be particularly disruptive in the Balkans, a region that is making great strides in strengthening democracy and the rule of law. As the region advances towards successful euro-Atlantic integration, this fact checking and disinformation conference comes at a crucial time.
Here in Albania, the U.S. Embassy recently published the results of a study of media professionals. This study, which reflected the voices of 800 media professionals throughout the country, confirmed an environment in which owners of media outlets increasingly control what is reported and how it is covered. Over half of respondents reported having received an order from a media owner or chief editor to do a commissioned story. 41 percent believed that “all media censored themselves” and 36 percent thought there was “frequent self-censorship.”
While these figures show that there is still work to be done, your dedication to fact-based, investigative reporting gives us hope. Fact checking has a crucial role to play in uncovering bias and challenging censorship. Your work improving the quality of journalism in Albania and the region has never been more important.
The United States Government gives you its full support. For the past few years, we have invested consistently in investigative, fact-based journalism. We have prioritized our resources to create opportunities and to open avenues for those who seek to speak the truth. Each year we send Albanian journalists to the United States and bring U.S. media experts to Albania to share best practices and improve the quality of journalism. Our Investigative Journalism Lab gives hands-on experience to aspiring journalists, so that they develop the skills they need to do thorough, engaging, and fact-based investigations. This past Monday, a group of journalism students at the University of Tirana completed a United States Government supported module in Court and Crime. This module equips them with the knowledge necessary to combat corruption in the judiciary. We expect it to become institutionalized as part of the university’s curriculum.
Finally, I am especially proud that the United States has supported the hardworking Faktoje journalists who have been integral to organizing this conference. They are behind the country’s first fact-checking service, which is a crucial step towards improving government transparency and accountability in the Republic of Albania. Through these and other initiatives, we pledge to continue to support your efforts working towards a fact-based, censorship-free media environment in the Balkans. I urge you to take the unique opportunity that this conference presents to network and define a strategy to combat misinformation.
I commend you for your commitment to speak truth to power. As famous publisher Joseph Pulitzer said, “Journalism is a noble profession, and of unequaled importance for its influence upon the minds and morals of the people.” I am awed by the bravery you show each day in overcoming the obstacles that would aim to silence you. Thank you and I wish you success in this and future initiatives.