As Albania heads into elections, the politicians are turning to live streaming their messages on Facebook to connect with voters - and marginalize traditional media.
Two weeks ahead of presidential elections in Albania, and with general elections looming in June, both the Socialist Prime Minister, Edi Rama, and the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, are busy live streaming their meetings and messages via Facebook.
Rama has even launched ER TV, a personalized “web live streaming TV” on which he broadcasts his official meetings and TV appearances live.
On April 7, about 1 million of his Facebook followers could watch Rama’s meetings live three times for a total of 127 minutes. Thousands watched and liked the videos.
“This is a communication tool without mediators. Your meditation [referring to journalists] in this media village often serves third parties,” Rama said on April 7, explaining why he prefers this form of direct communication with the public to more conventional methods.
Lulzim Basha, head of the opposition centre-right Democratic Party, is doing exactly the same. He live streams every speech on Facebook that he makes in front of his tent, outside Rama’s office, where his party has been staging a street protest since February 18.
The opposition party wants the Socialist Prime Minister to step down and allow the formation of technical government tasked solely with conducting what the Democrats call free and fair elections on June 18.
These live streams are feeding hundreds of online media with content that the party press officers send them.
While politicians are clearly thrilled with the possibility of talking direct to the voters, media experts are concerned about the way this trend is going.
“I find it very disturbing that the overwhelming majority of content in the media is the same as that distributed by the politicians on Facebook,” Lutfi Dervishi, a journalism lecturer at Tirana University, says.
Dervishi warns that this kind of communication between politicians and public may be direct and unfiltered but it is also less accountable.
He says it prevents the media from fulfilling its traditional role of questioning and interpreting what politicians say and so offering the public balanced reports.
Neritan Sejamini, a political science lecturer at Tirana University and the publisher of Exit website, says what concerns him most is the way that the media are allowing themselves to be fed with Facebook propaganda, by simply republishing the overwhelming majority of this content.
“What we really need in this moment is for the media to do its job, even more strongly than before. In this situation, when loads of propaganda is coming from the social networks, we need fact-checking, analysis and investigations,” he said.
Despite these concerns, the trend for the media to rely of being hand fed information from Facebook looks likely to continue. This is largely because it saves time and effort. The conventional media have limited capacities, and especially the growing number of news websites that function with small staffs and little money.
Sejamini says the new way that the political players have found to reach the voters is creating an illusion of transparency.
It is easy to go on Facebook and see live streaming by politicians, he says, “but it is difficult even to find full decisions that the government has made - let alone documents relating to concessions or other deals”.