#ALGREE: 1st MORE Media Report
Political Environment in the region
Southeast Europe is once again in the center of geopolitical developments. The war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and the “competition” between the East and the West advert the political developments in the Balkan region. Moreover, the long standing and ongoing bilateral issues and the EU enlargement process for the Western Balkans provide an open space and opportunity for external influence and involvement in the region and the European perspective.
One of these cases is the Greek-Albanian bilateral relations. Interestingly, the relations between the two countries remain a complicated riddle in Southeast Europe. The bonds between Albanians and Greeks are historical, economic, and social, which are connected with the existence in the same Euro-Atlantic geopolitical sphere and largely agree about the broader macro-historical political agenda of the region: the establishment of healthy democracies, strong market economies, and rule of law states, as well as the integration of the entire Balkans to the European Union and NATO. Moreover, the two countries, after the end of the Cold War have cultivated intensive interaction of all sorts from the early 1990s onwards. This interaction increased the visibility of one country/nation to the other but also brought to the surface old stereotypes and fears as well as new sources of disagreements and tensions.
As a result, Albania and Greece find themselves in a paradoxical situation. The two societies and economies are highly interconnected, but diplomatic and political relations remain testing and in a near-permanent state of volatility. Simultaneously, the increasingly hostile rhetoric manifesting in electronic and social media creates a fertile ground for the two nations to potentially develop their identities in opposition to one another.
At this critical point of history, with the Russian invasion and the return of war to Europe, the Balkans remembered the devastating Yugoslav wars of the 1990s which was a backslide for the whole region. The momentum for the governments and political elites in the region must be used to actively proceed and support the development, integration, and connectedness of their states and nations.
At this critical and volatile juncture, the governments of Albania and Greece seem to have made a strategic choice to push the settlement of their outstanding bilateral issues forward; they have decided to build a new, dynamic relationship, that will upgrade them from mere NATO allies to genuine partners and, eventually, fellow members in the European Union. A successful partnership between Athens and Tirana can mark the start of a new “European momentum” for the region in the same way that, nearly five years ago, the Prespa Agreement signaled the willingness of Skopje and Athens to leave their bitter spat behind them and show the rest of the region the path to resolving disputes.
In this sense, ALGREE project aims to tackle in a comprehensive manner serious problems and gaps in bilateral/official, societal/grassroots relations between Albania and Greece. More precisely, ALGREE intends to highlight those elements that could be used by officials, media, influential public figures, and civil society so as to improve the level of trust and understanding between the two countries. ALGREE has the aspiration to provide ideas, data, and tools upon which efforts to build a cooperative and European future between the two societies could be based. To this end, ALGREE will engage and cooperate with multiple stakeholders and other interested parties as well as with the wider public in both countries. The project’s comprehensive interventions will focus on three key levels:
- media landscape and media representations
Media Coverage and Foreign Policy
The interconnection between media coverage, public opinion, and politics is researched and analyzed by many academics and media experts. Through the literature, the terms of agenda setting, priming, and tone set the basics to understand also our case study for media coverage between Greece and Albania.
The traditional approach of agenda-setting theory argues that the new media have the ability to influence not only what people “think” but also how people think on specific topics. In the research of McCombs and Shaw, they identify that “mass media have the ability to set the agenda for each political campaign, influencing the salience of attitudes toward the political issues.” Therefore, the media can play a crucial role to the significance people attribute to various issues and to how high or low they rank them. On a next level, studies have expanded the agenda-setting model to the attitude change of the audiences and how they develop their political preferences.
Furthermore, by analyzing foreign policy issues’ coverage in media, we can specify to what extent media cover a neighboring state, in which sense, and in which tone. More precisely, the more media coverage a nation receives, the more likely for the people to consider that this nation has vital importance for their state and national interests. Additionally, if the coverage has a negative connotation, people tend to think negatively about this nation, increasing the stereotypical view and the feeling of insecurity and threat. This can be easily understood by the relationship that Greek media has evolved during the years with neighboring states (Turkey, Albania etc.).
In fact, the power of the news media to set a nation’s agenda, and to focus public attention on a few key public issues, is an immense and well-documented influence. Not only do people acquire factual information about public affairs from the news media, but readers and viewers also learn how much importance to attach to a topic on the basis of the emphasis placed on it in the news. Indeed, the media influence nearly every aspect of the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy.
Part of the ALGREE project is to identify and highlight the flawed function and reporting by media in both countries. How media do the agenda-setting and priming of bilateral issues of Greece and Albania and how this affects public opinion perspectives and the bilateral issues as a whole. The Media Observatory Report (MORE) aims to highlight through recent case studies how media, which influence and shape public opinion attitudes, fail to provide accurate information and a good understanding of the improved bilateral relations at the level of official politics and the societal bonds that exist and remain at the context of misconceptions and prejudices.
The 1st MORE Report has been published. The case that has been used for the analysis are:
- Dendias΄ visit: Greek Foreign Affairs Minister’s visit to Tirana in May 2022: Media missing the point
- The question of maritime borders: Albanian media obsessing over the issue of the maritime border
- Turkey - Albania relations: Greek media obsessing over Turkey–Albania relations
- Albania's EU integration: Media on both sides missing the political significance of the issue
- Elina Tzengko's success story: Society shows the way