From: Exit Staff
Albania and Its Issue With Media Freedom

Albania, the EU’s most fervent wannabe Member State is in the grips of a serious issue regarding media freedom and freedom of speech.

Ranked 75 globally in terms of its Press Freedom by Reporters Sans Frontiers in 2018, a joint report between the press watchdog and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network found a number of problems with the media in the county.

Regulatory standards are manipulated in the favour of the government and its interests and the main broadcast and print media is owned by a handful of rich businessmen. This has resulted in a situation where self-censorship is rife and 80% of journalists have little confidence in their professional future. Those that persevere and continue with their work undeterred are exposed to campaigns of harassment, abuse, threats, and even smear campaigns that defame and discredit them personally, rather than addressing the stories that they write.

Prime Minister Edi Rama is one of the most vocal critics of the independent media, calling them “trash”, “poison” and “public enemies”.

Private media outlets usually take an editorial line that suits the interests of their owners with many wilfully publishing propaganda and factually incorrect information that has been designed to deliberately mislead the public. Whilst the media does expose political malfeasance, investigative reporting portals are in the minority due to a climate of fear and the fact that those caught engaging in illegality or corruption are rarely punished by the courts.

Those that do report on such matters receive targeted campaigns of abuse and misinformation and some are even threatened and assaulted because of their work. There are several reports of journalists being threatened with guns or physical violence as well as having their houses shot at as a “warning”.

But this sort of treatment is not just reserved for Albanian journalists. A British journalist, living in Tirana has recently been subjected to vicious written attacks including a campaign of disinformation across pro-government media platforms. As well as working for this portal, she runs her own blog site that focusses on travel, culture, and the positive side of life in Albania with the site amassing over 20,000 visitors every month. Despite the extensive positive PR she provides for the country, the fact that she also writes reports and opinion pieces on injustices and corruption in the higher echelons of the Rama administration meant that she has now been targeted in an attempt to silence her by a handful of propaganda-driven portals.

In a comment made to RT, the Russian state television and the most watched foreign media source in America, she commented on the reports that the Socialist Party in power rigged the 2017 elections through liaising with criminal gangs- a fact that has been widely reported in countless international publications. She also commented that the opposition’s Democratic Party (PD) resignations from parliament was in fact a part of a democratic process, and not antidemocratic as the government propaganda suggests. As a result of her comments- all of which are based in facts and multiple other reports- he has been accused of being a paid agent of the Russians who is propagating anti-Rama information as a part of a coordinated campaign to undermine “democracy.” In addition to this, the portals also attacked her partner for attending PD protests, claiming that he is on the payroll of the opposition leader and therefore the comments of the journalist are based on this link. None of the accusations are true.

But they did not stop there- they even went after an American website called Tsarizm that has taken a number of posts from and replicated them on their site including the work of the British journalist. They have claimed that this proves that the journalist in question is working for a Russian-linked media source, despite the fact that the same Albanian platforms have republished without permission the work of the very same journalist.

The Albanian press has tried to link the owner L.Todd Woods to Russia by linking him to Yuri Vanetik- an individual who is actually Ukranian and was himself the target of a campaign of disinformation and propaganda, all of which has been debunked.

This campaign of fake news and disinformation is set to land the Albanian media portals in hot water. Attacking a foreign journalist, an American news portal, a US veteran, and trying to manufacture a bizarre Russian-backed plot to overthrow Rama is not a matter that will be taken lightly internationally. Already, independent media watchdogs, newspapers, and political figures have taken an interest in the story and the threat that it poses to media freedom in the country.

Intimidating journalists via illegal campaigns of disinformation defamation is both a criminal and civil matter in Albania and the guarantee of media freedom is a core element of ascension to the EU. The journalist in question was even threatened on two occasions by Gazeta Shqip when she contacted them to ask them to remove the libellous story about her, they removed the story nonetheless but advised her that they were only doing so because she was foreign.

Whilst criticism of journalists is part of a democratic and free society, libel, threatening behaviour, and the wilful publishing of fake news designed to intimidate and discredit is the hallmark of an autocratic regime- something that has no place in Europe in 2019.