From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Albania’s Reaction to World Press Freedom Day

Today marks World Press Freedom Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. Since then, the 3 May anniversary has been celebrated worldwide as a day to promote the fundamental principles of press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and to pay tribute to journalists that have lost their lives in the line of duty.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres commented:

“No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information. It is the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power.”

Today leaders, press freedom and human rights organisations, activists, and journalists from around the world all publicly spoke out about the challenges facing the profession, and these were the local reactions.

President Meta spoke of his “deep concerns” regarding the situation on media freedom in the country, and how such concerns fall on “deaf ears”. He described the media as “less free and independent” as well as being characterised by an aggressive and threatening rhetoric.

“I would like to invite you, without wasting any time, to unify your stands and positions, to stay away from self-censorship, to openly denounce violence, blackmail, and the hate speech and intimidations exercised upon you, and also the inadequate working conditions you are forced to function under,” he said in a statement addressing journalists directly.

Luigi Soreca, the EU Ambassador to Albania tweeted that “we celebrate the essential role of a free press”, despite the dire situation for the media in the country. He continued that the quality of a democratic process is linked to the state of freedom of expression.

Despite tens of physical, verbal, legal, and other attacks on journalists in Albania during the last 12 months, this is one of the only times that Soreca has even mentioned media freedom. When journalists have had machine guns fired at their houses, been assaulted for doing their job, received death threats, had their residence permits stopped, or been gassed and beaten in protests, he has offered little in the way of criticism.

Duncan Norman, the British Ambassador tweeted that “media freedom is increasingly under threat” and he published a photo of him meeting with local journalists to “discuss the local media environment” and how it could be better supported.

The US Embassy in Tirana took the opportunity to remind governments and politicians to “do their jobs to strengthen freedom of speech”, whilst adding that journalist should reflect on professional ethics and integrity.

The OSCE Presence described the media’s role as a “key pillar of a thriving democracy” and they applauded the work of journalists serving the public in sometimes difficult circumstances. asked both Edi Rama and his Director of Communications, Endri Fuga for comment but both requests were ignored.

The Democratic Party were more forthcoming with comments however. Genc Pollo, one of the original founders of the PD as well as the Chair of the Education and Media Committee between 2013-2017 spoke of his lack of surprise over Albania’s recent descent in international media freedom rankings.

He told Exit: The government has gone to great lengths; from enriching to the tune of millions the media owners and oligarchs, to vicious verbal attacks against investigative journalists in public. There is no chance of recovery if there is no major change.”

He also thanked “brave reporters” working mostly online.

PD Deputy Albana Vokshi also gave a comment to Exit where she made reference to the alarm being raised by international organisations regarding media freedom and the status of journalists in Albania.

“Journalists today find themselves under pressure, blackmail, insults, threats to life, physical violence or even more pervasive claims by the Prime Minister, the Police, senior central and local officials. Violence has increased dramatically, and in recent months there have been many cases of physical violence and death threats, just because of their jobs.”

She referenced the recent attempts by the Prime Minister to implement “dictatorship laws” designed to close news portals that reveal state corruption. Vokshi described the government’s attitude towards journalists, and even the revocation of my residence permit after reporting on protests as “alarming and a threat to freedom of the press.”

She added: “Press freedom is non-negotiable and freedom of the press is the heel of Western democracies.”

Rama did however take to Twitter to call it a “comedy” that the Opposition were asking and commenting on media freedom. In the bizarre rant, he continued that there is a courtesy for everyone in Albania but that the day of judgement is coming– referring to the elections.

The Prime Minister is well-known for his hatred of journalists and regularly refers to them as “trashcans” and “public enemies”. Fuga has publicly accused journalists and international press freedom organisations of “fake news” as well as making veiled threats about certain journalists “having problems” due to their reporting.

Journalist, writer, and member of the Albanian Media Council, Koloreto Cukali spoke of the global trend of press degradation, but noted that in countries that have “unconsolidated democracies such as Albania” the problem is even worse.

Cukali outlined three main problems facing journalists and the public today;

The massive production of biased reporting, the so-called fake news, which by ironically are produced by those who use the term fake-news the most, the administrative power, mainly the Government and the Municipality (of Tirana).

The non-transparent financing of many media, mainly online portals. This money comes often from people in power, wealthy politicians or oligarchs. Often, media freedom is purchased directly through state funding or advertising of large companies.

Security of journalists, whether physical or of the job. Journalists are often threatened by the owners of editors to not do their job, or worse, report biased news. They are not protected by contracts, they do not enjoy functional unions and are literally under the mercy for media owners for their survival.

He also called for legal self-regulation, the creation of unions and collective contracts to improve working conditions for journalists.

Sonila Meco, popular and well respected television journalist commented on the way in which the Albanian media is on the brink due to “conflicts of interest between politics, business, and organised crime”. She explained that the media is experiencing a confidence crisis which is “challenged by propaganda, irregular journalists contracts, and business owners interests”, adding that “it is not know where the propaganda press office ends and the newsroom begins.”

She proposed a law that would “regulate once and for all the relationship between power and media owners, instead of propaganda office laws that affect media freedom and access to public information”

Another Albanian journalist, freelancer Fatjona Mejdini who contributes for Balkan Insight, described a situation where mainstream media are “heavily influenced by the business interests of their owners”, as well as an issue of unregulated online media portals. She called on the community to think about solutions in pushing for ethical journalism, industry regulations, and innovative ways of sharing content.

“I see a hope in whoever can use non-conventional channels of communication to increase the quality of independent journalism and the pieces that they produce”

A representative from the APJ Albania, the EFJ affiliated journalists association said that they did not have time to comment today when contacted by Exit.