The government has often tired to avoid or silence those voice that are critical of it. In the year and a half, it has undertaken a number of legal initiatives that aim at limiting the freedom of speech and the legalization of censorship over the media. A few dates:
The government proposes a draft law to criminalize slander of public officials and elected representatives, punishable with imprisonment of up to three years.
Minister of Innovation and Public Administration Milena Harito proposed changes in the law on electronic commerce in order to punish online commenters.
The government proposes the punishment of journalists for “improper influence” of prosecutors from the Special Prosecution, the unit that deals with the investigation of corruption cases.
A draft law proposed by Deputy Majlinda Bregu (PD) includes the addition of an article to the Penal Code, which would oblige the administrators of “online portals” to block the publication of “any comment that threatens the honor, personality, or reputation of a person.”
According to the proposal, if the administrators would allow these comments and not erase them, they would be responsible for causing immaterial damage following the pertinent articles in the Civil Code.
The Socialist Party (PS) proposes to the ad-hoc Electorial Reform Commission to register all “online portals” at the Media Monitoring Board. In case the portals don’t register on time, the government will have the right to close them during the election campaign.
Beside the government’s legal initiative, Prime Minister Edi Rama has continuously attacks “online portals,” analysts, and critical journalists. During his Sunday Facebook monologues, he called them “failed politicians who are full of hatred and who take revenge for their failure studio after studio, portal after portal, showing themselves with the mask of an analyst.”
If laws don’t work, fire them
All these attempts to censor the media have failed so far. Legal initiatives have been forgotten or retracted by the government. Meanwhile, no one seems to be terribly impressed by his insults of the media and reporters.
So they found a new way to avoid critical voices: media owners have suddenly started to change the editorial direction and have unexpectedly fired several journalists and editors.
This started in 2016 with the firing of journalist Alida Tota from Report TV and the censorship of Artan Rama’s program Publicús on Vizion Plus. This was recently followed by the removal of Armand Shkullaku and three foreign reporters from ABC News, and Alfred Lela from newspaper MAPO.
In all these cases, the media owners are close to the government. Report TV is owned by Carlo Bollino, who also manages Bunk’Art; Vizion Plus is owned by Genc Dulaku, who also owns construction company Edil Al-It, who won the tender to reconstruct the Theater of Opera and Ballet; ABC News is owned by Aleksandër Frangaj, who also owns government-friendly Klan TV; while MAPO is owned by European University of Tirana director Henri Çili, who has supported Rama’s higher education reform and openly called for a second mandate.
All these actions of the government and businesses connected to it are in the end a threat to the free press and therefore to democracy.