The Board of Directors of RTV Ora and OraNews has sent a letter to all Western Embassies, accusing Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj of intimidating, threatening and blackmailing journalists, as well as smearing the station’s reputation.
Published by Politiko.al, the letter reads:
“For over a year now, our attempts to report on the progress and quality of the works undertaken by Tirana City Hall with a view to shedding light on the use of public funds have consistently been met by Mr Veliaj with aggressive responses, personal attacks, threats, and blackmail, all of which has significantly hampered our work.”
The Board state that they are in possession of evidence that the Mayor has tried to “intimidate, threaten and blackmail our journalists and management”, adding that it represents a “shocking case of violation of media freedom and freedom of expression in Albania”.
The letter explains how Veliaj asked to have certain journalists fired and links to published pieces deleted. The fact that Ora continued to cover the National Theatre issue and did not stop seeking transparency from City Hall about public spending and works, meant that the pressure exerted on the media increased, according to their account.
Noting Veliaj’s “obsession with public image, the image that Mr Veliaj so desperately wants to convey to the public” and the way that he “attempts to wield total control over the media coverage of himself and his office”, they accuse him of maintaining a “terrifyingly efficient propaganda machine”.
“This propaganda machine which is run out of Tirana City Hall has managed to inundate the Albanian media with already prepared news reports that have been cut and edited by Tirana City Hall staff members. In this climate, it is extremely difficult to produce independent news reports on the Yaor and City Hall,” reads the letter.
“Any such attempts including ours is inevitably met with intimidation, threats and blackmail”. The letter also names the Director of Public Works Directorate Taulant Fusha as complicit in the attacks.
The letter also details an incident in December 2019 where the owner of Yldon Media group, Ylli Ndroqi says that Veliaj used the name of the American Embassy in Tirana to threaten him. The Board of Ora states that they have “indisputable evidence in the form of electronic communication and text messages” and that a full investigation should be started into him, his office, and his leadership of City Hall.
“Any silence from responsible authorities on this matter will allow Mr Veliaj to continue intimidating, threatening, and blackmailing Albanian journalists and the Albanian media with impunity.”
Exit has long sought to debunk Veliaj’s propaganda, from his tree planting, his use of minors, plagiarising artwork and music, fake awards, staging of photos, fake profiles, and abusive language towards journalists. Questions to him, sent by Exit resulted in the journalist being called a “troll”, a servant of “fascists” and “Russia”.