From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Albanian Journalist Sues Prime Minister Over Media Freedom Row

Albanian journalist Ylli Rakipi has today filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Edi Rama.

The presenter of TV show “Të Paekspozuarit” and a well-known investigative journalist has reported on a number of instances of corruption that go to the very core of the government.

As a result of his work, in December 2018, Rakipi reported receiving numerous threats against his life and person, shortly after he exposed the corruption regarding the tender of the Outer Ring Road in Tirana. He published forged documents that DH Albania had used to win the government tender for the reconstruction of parts of the road.

The project requires the illegal forced eviction, without compensation of thousands of citizens- something that is also in breach of international human rights laws.

Then in January 2019, Edi Rama filed a lawsuit against Rakipi for his reporting. It is also alleged that Rama has tried to shut down broadcasts of his television show.

Calling Rama “a new type of dictator like Erdogan or Putin” he stated that it is not the duty of the Prime Minister to control the media.

He explained how Edi Rama “buys the media” and had controls over all the powers of the country, including the media. He requested that the lawsuit proceed with open doors to that journalists are able to follow it as a process with full transparency.

He added “we no longer have Adolf Hitler or Enver Hoxha regimes. New regimes are when they deprive all liberties, are regimes when you cannot do anything. Freedom means you can, democracy means to be able.”

Many of his concerns have been echoed by international press organisations such as Reporters Sans Frontiers. Studies conducted by the independent entity found that 90% of the media market share is attributed to a handful of owners, all with strong political affiliations.

Rama has repeatedly attacked journalists calling them ‘ignorant’, ‘poison’, ‘garbage bin’, ‘scandalmongers’, ‘charlatans’, and ‘public enemies’. As a result of these public and vicious attacks, many journalists self-censor out of fear, or are forced to follow their employers’ editorial line, or risk losing their jobs.

Both Rama and the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj refuse to give press conferences, instead inviting their own journalists to cover related events and stories.

Journalists have lost their jobs, had live broadcasts stopped, and been threatened with semi-automatic weapons after reporting on corruption linked to the government. Others have been targeted in coordinated smear and disinformation campaigns, or in the case of a foreign journalist, had their residence permit revoked.

Many independent or investigative journalists do not use their own names for fear of repercussions and many others are scared to cover certain stories for the same reason. There is also a prevalence of ‘copy-and-paste’ journalism, where portals will reproduce the same articles ad verbatim, usually without fact-checking. The majority of these articles are fake news or contain misinformation and propaganda.

In addition to this, Rama wants to introduce a media law that will force every media outlet in the country to register with a government department. This department will then have the power to shut down or block any website that it wants, based on an allegation of “fake news”. Then the owner of the site will be forced to open court proceedings to have the site reopened. The plan was paused following widespread condemnation from local and international media and human rights organisations.