Investigative journalists in Albania walking a dangerous tightrope

Expression

Prime Minister Edi Rama was criticised by representatives of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for threatening the journalist Peter Tiede with legal action. The threat came as a result of Tiede’s articles in the German newspaper Bild, where he exposed Rama’s involvement in a corruption scandal including the police and the Albanian mafia to buy votes in the 2017 elections. Despite the impending legal action, Tiede claimed that the articles were rigorously researched and supported with verifiable sources. Media watchdogs have claimed that the reaction from the Prime Minister has set a worrying precedent as it attempts to muzzle investigative and critical reporting. The incident also comes at a time when international observers have claimed that press freedom in Albania has deteriorated in recent years with journalists being attacked and critical media defamed by politicians.

The negative rhetoric of the Prime Minister is well documented. Rama recently mocked journalists who reported being threatened, attacked and intimidated, by naming them as “divas” who make “fake heroic gestures”. Shortly after making that statement, the car of the journalist Fatos Lubonja was damaged after a huge rock was thrown at the windscreen. Lubonja later stated that attack was directly linked to the negative rhetoric espoused by public officials and is another example of the hostile treatment of journalists who criticise the government. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there is an alarming number of attacks against journalists that remain unresolved in Albania, which has created a climate of fear. During a recent solidarity mission to Albania, CPJ met with journalists and media workers to discuss media freedom. In a statement, a spokesperson for the group outlined the serious risks facing investigative journalists who criticise the government: 

"Journalists here are walking on a minefield, and the biggest risk is when they do not realise on whose toes they are treading while doing their investigations."

In just one of many examples, the investigative journalist Basir Collaku noted that he is being watched after publishing articles which uncovered corruption. The journalist stated that a person had been taking pictures and filming the entrance of his family home. He fears this could be retaliation for exposing ties between the Government and criminal groups, for which he received death threats.

Numerous media freedom organisations, journalists, members of civil society as well as the representation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Albania have shared their concerns regarding the proposed amendments to the Law on Audio Visual Media and the Law on Electronic Communications. They stated that the said changes would be detrimental to freedom of expression online as they introduce State regulation of online media through administrative bodies, thus breaking the principle of “self-regulation of media ethics”, a practice which is prevalent in Europe. Journalists have also criticised the drafts as they were made without civil society consultation. Furthermore, the Albanian Media Council has also described the proposed draft law on media “worse than the previous one” and would “contribute to further setbacks on media freedom and freedom of expression in Albania.” The main concern is the possibility for censorship through the Audio Visual Media Authority (AMA), which, with the amendments as they stand, will give the authority the power to regulate the content of online media outlets. Moreover, the Complaints Council will be given the power to oblige electronic publications service providers to publish an apology, impose fines (from €820 to €8200), remove content or insert a pop-up notice in cases of violations of provisions on dignity and privacy of citizens. A Representative from OSCE also noted that blocking or suspending online publications is considered an extreme state measure vis-a-vis the right to freedom of expression.

Peaceful Assembly

Thousands of protestors joined the tenth national opposition protest, asking for the resignation of Prime Minister Rama. The demonstrations were Pro-European Union and the crowds called for "Albania to become like the rest of Europe", which could not happen with the current Government with the allegations of corruption and criminal activity. The protest was peaceful and without any incident.

After 18 months of peaceful protests by a group of actors, writers and film producers against the plans of the Government to sell off public land and demolish the National Theatre in Tirana, the protests escalated leaving one civilian hospitalised and several others injured. The police and private security firms arrived at the protest which led to a confrontation and first acts of violence since protests started. Several hundred citizens later joined the protestors to show solidarity with their cause and against police violence.