The “anti-journalist rhetoric” propagated by both Prime Minister Edi Rama, and leader of the Democratic Party Lulzim Basha has been called out in a new report for the University of Oxford.
Rama calling journalists rubbish bins and Basha referring to the media as “captured and bought” were identified as examples of a worrying trend where the language used by political figures, impacts the way journalists are treated in society.
According to a survey conducted as research for the report, 63% of journalists said that they had been publicly criticised by politicians for a piece of journalism they produced. This criticism was usually delivered verbally, closely followed by via social media. Attacks were also done the “old fashioned way” by calling up the editors of publications, according to the findings of the report.
The use of derogatory language towards journalists as well as accusations of “being a spy” and being treated like “public enemies” resulted in journalists feeling like they are at war.
Some 64.5% of journalists said they had been harassed or threatened due to their profession and 83.3% said that the attacks occurred online. Just over half said they had also been harassed and attacked in person.
It was also observed that female journalists bear the brunt of online attacks and that they are often subjected to personal and highly sexualised ways.
Another worrying trend across the region was the prevalence of media capture due to a weak regulatory framework, financial pressures, and private individuals with political motivations that want to influence the media. This collusion between the political class and media owners has “reached unprecedented levels, leading to a phenomenon known as media capture.”
This means that news media institutions are operating as part of a government-business cartel that controls the flow of information with the aim of protecting their access to public resources.
SLAPP suits and the threat of vexatious lawsuits was also identified as an increasingly common way to threaten and intimidate journalists. Such suits are used to “wear down journalists and curb the kind of public-interest journalism that would fuel civil society activism”.
Albania was also criticised specifically in the report for passing a “draconian set of anti-defamation laws that allow government agencies to hear complaints about news sites, demand retractions, impose fines, and suspend their activity.”