A Dangerous Precedent is Being Set for Albanian Media Freedom

After reporting on allegations and published evidence of corruption in Albania, as well as the motives of Opposition protests and MP resignations, I was targeted by a number of government-affiliated publications. In articles that have now been described as unethical, designed to harass and intimidate a journalist, factually incorrect, and guilty of inciting violence, I have been accused of being a paid Russian agent, in a relationship with a violent opposition party militant.

Less than a week after these allegations were made against me, the decision to approve my residence permit was revoked, with authorities refusing to issue me with the written decision as is required under Albanian law.

As a journalist and a reporter, I report on facts. I report on what is in the news, what is happening around me, and I refer to sources, evidence, and the testimony of those involved. Undertaking this work is not only my job but it is covered by my fundamental right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Furthermore, free media is something that is a fundamental requirement of the EU as well as a core element of a functioning and healthy democracy.

The fact that I have been attacked in a public smear campaign sets a dangerous precedent for foreign journalists that are, or may want to cover Albania in the future.

Albania desperately wants to join the EU and the government are doing everything in their power to achieve it. This also means that from now on, they are going to be under much more intense scrutiny from local and particularly international press.

Gone are the days of Albanian news just being reported in Albanian- as the country moves towards taking its place on the international stage, it can expect to be analysed, dissected, criticised, and evaluated by journalists the world over. These journalists will speak a variety of languages and they will write from both biased and unbiased perspectives. Some will be liberals, some socialist, some democrats, some right wing, some centre right, some fascist, and some who will just want to sit on the fence and not take any particular stance at all.

Now, Albania is under the spotlight of the international press and as such, every move it makes and every incident that occurs is likely to be reported, in detail, for a variety of international publications. This means that we can expect more foreign correspondents here, more visits from international journalists, and more local journalists reporting for media platforms around the world.

But what impact will this recent attack on me have on the perception of Albania as a free society where journalists are free to carry out their work? My guess is, not a good one.

My case has already been reported by the Council of Europe, two of the world’s largest journalism organisations (IPI and IFJ), and Europe’s largest journalists union (EFJ), – IFJ and EFJ both partnered with CoE’s statement. It has also been condemned locally by two media associations and a watchdog. British journalist working for The Guardian, Neil Clark who had also commented on the situation in Albania to Russia Today, tweeted his support of my handling of the case noting that this was the way to fight back against a smear campaign. In a global climate where governments are under increasing pressure to respect the rights of journalists- this is bad PR that Albania really cannot afford.

Furthermore, it puts any foreign or local journalist at an increased risk in the future. Those that may want to come here to report on current affairs, or those that may want to work as local correspondents will do so in a climate of fear. They will see the way that I was illegally attacked and they will think twice before reporting on facts and events that are already in the public domain, or before conducting investigations themselves.

What has happened to me, and to other Albanian journalists is a sign of a serious problem in this country and media freedom is declining at an alarming rate. Let us not forget that the Prime Minister also wants to bring every, single media website and blog in the country under his direct control, wielding the power to shut them down instantly without any legal process being carried out. This is not acceptable and furthermore, it is both anti-European and anti-democratic.

I know that some of the gossip mongers are previous employees of the communist regime, but those times are long gone and with it are the days where you could control who said what, when and to whom.

– Alice Elizabeth Taylor