Smear Campaign Against Journalist Alice Taylor Reported by CPJ

Another international press freedom organisations has reported on the “smear campaign” carried out against British journalist Alice Taylor.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an independent NGO based in New York that reports on, monitors, and defends the work of journalists across the world. Referred to as “Journalism’s Red Cross”, they have been active for almost 30 years and is widely regarded as one of the most independent, non-partisan media freedom watchdogs and advocates in the world.

Their comments on her case come after widespread support from the European Federation of Journalists, the Council of Europe, the International Federation of Journalists, the Albanian Media Council, the Association of Professional Journalists of Albania, and the Independent Press Institute.

In a report appearing on their website, CPJ note that Taylor had been targeted in a smear campaign by pro-government news outlets in the country, as well as having her residency permit renewal denied.

The report states: “Taylor told CPJ that pro-government news outlets have been publishing personal attacks against her since February 24, 2019, following her comments one day earlier on anti-government protests and allegations of corruption against the government in Albania on RT, the international television network funded by the Russian government.”

Claims made against Taylor and her partner included that she was a Russian spy and/or agent, that her partner was a “violent militant” and bodyguard to the Opposition leader Luzlim Basha, that they were both on the payroll of Russia and the Democratic Party.

The allegations started after she wrote a number of articles reporting on the events of the recent anti-government protests in Albania, as well as making a further statement of fact in a short interview with Russia Today.

Gazeta Tema, Tirana Post, and are all mentioned as being involved in the campaign against the journalist and reference is also made to the ruling from the Albanian Media Council on March 3rd, which confirmed allegations of defamation and harassment. They issued a statement supporting Taylor’s claims that they had published “misleading information” as well as breached her privacy and incited crime or violence against her.

The CPJ report also makes reference to a report in the Voice of America where they published a statement allegedly from the authorities stating that her “visa renewal form was not filed properly”. This was subsequently proven to be false information.

Following the significant media attention both locally and internationally, the Immigration police have backed down on their initial refusal to renew her permit, meaning she is no longer required to exit the country and return. Twelve days after the refusal was made, they provided the journalist with an official document stating that her permit was now renewed but that she had to pay a fine of around EUR 160.

It is not clear what the fine is for, as Taylor has been advised by her legal counsel that her 2018 and 2019 applications were both in full compliance with Albanian law.

The document specifying the fine was signed by the Director of Immigration who had previously approved Taylor’s application. Just days later, at the height of the coordinated smear campaign against her, the department of the same Director advised that this initial approval had been revoked by someone from “above” and outside of the department, meaning it seems strange that her signature would be on a document that overrules her previous decision.

The CPJ reached out to Endri Fuga for a comment but they were unable to get a response. Fuga, the Director of Communications for the Prime Minister had tweeted Taylor a threat just days before the campaign started against her. He then called the story “fake news” when the International Press Association commented in favour of Taylor’s case.

The journalist is proceeding with legal action against the media portals that defamed her, pledging to donate any compensation to local charities. She has also filed complaints with the Data Protection Commissioner, the Ombudsman, and the Immigration Police.