According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, media freedom in Albania is a“worrying situation” due to “physical attacks against the press that go unresolved, public officials regularly using language that belittles critical reporters, and proposed legislation on local and foreign online outlets that is out of line with European and international human rights standards.”
The international media freedom watchdog aims to both promote press freedom and defend the rights of journalists and was a part of a delegation of media freedom organisations that visited Albania last month. They met with journalists, academics, editors, members of civil society, and Prime Minister Edi Rama. The organisations requested a meeting with Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, but he refused.
Following their five day visit, they held a press conference where they spoke of a deterioration in press freedom, a worrying number of attacks against journalists, and concerns around the way in which politicians from both sides of the political spectrum denigrated media workers.
In an article authored by Attila Mong, the CPJ representative for Europe, he details a number of his findings that were made following interviews with journalists and other stakeholders in Tirana. He also notes the way in which Albanian journalists “tread a fine line” when covering topics such as organised crime and politics, noting that “the intersection of organized crime, corruption and politics in Albania is impacting the country’s press.”
Those interviewed included Klodiana Lala whose father’s home was sprayed with machine gun fire in August 2018.
“We are still devastated and my daughters traumatised” Lala said. Her two baby daughters were asleep in the house when it was attacked, luckily no one was hurt. Mong notes that almost one year later, no one has been arrested in connection with the attack.
Fatos Lubonja, whose car was vandalised this week, also spoke to the delegation. He described the situation in Albania as like a three-story house; “with organised crime in the basement, business, oligarchs owning the media on the first floor, and the political parties on the second. And there are stairs and elevators connecting these floors.”
The article also references the cases of Alida Tota and Artan Rama who both suffered consequences after reporting on “alleged links between the municipality of Tirana, controlled by Socialist party mayor, Erion Veliaj, and a recycling plant in the city’s Sharra landfill, where a 17-year-old worker died in 2016”.
Mong notes how Rama’s show on Vision Plus TV was cancelled on the day it was due to broadcast his investigation into the death, leaving him without a job. Tota, who also reported on the case was fired by A1 News TV just after contacting the Mayor’s office for a comment on the story.
Also included in the report are the cases of two foreign journalists who were also intimidated as a result of their work. Myself who was the victim of a pro-government media smear campaign and who had my residence permit unlawfully revoked, and Louis Sellier, a French journalist were included in the article.
Sellier told the delegation how the Albanian ambassador to France pressured his editors at French newspaper Liberation after his reporting on anti-government protests in Tirana. The journalist was described as “problematic” in a letter sent by the ambassador and it appeared to hint he was not the right person for the portal to hire in Albania.
Similar tactics were also exercised on news portals in Austria earlier this year.
When Mong challenged Rama on the threats and incidents against journalists under his rule, the Prime Minister dismissed his concerns and mocked those who have suffered.
“I cannot stand these fake heroic gestures, (…) playing the diva…”
He also defended calling journalists “trashcans” but finally committed to the delegation that he would refrain from using that language, or suing journalists again.
Days later, however, he announced he was filing a lawsuit in Germany against Bild journalist Peter Teide who published leaked prosecution wiretaps of members of his government colluding to buy the 2017 elections.
Rama announced he had hired a German defamation lawyer whose fees start at EUR 750 an hour, despite the Prime Minister earning around double that in a month.
The article also referenced the proposed anti-defamation package that Rama said would “discipline online media”.