Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has been called out on his “hate speech” against journalists during the COVID-19 crisis.
International media freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders issued a press release this week, detailing examples of attacks on journalists, media workers and freedom of expression during the pandemic. Amongst the roll call of Prime Ministers violating the principles of media freedom, Rama’s extraordinary pre-recorded telephone message was mentioned.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in Albania, Edi Rama used Vodafone Albania to place a pre-recorded message on everyone’s mobile phone. The message would play before any outgoing call was made. In it, Rama advised citizens to take hygiene measures includiong protecting themselves from the media.
The message for Vodafone users, the country’s most popular telecoms network, translated as :
“Wash your hands, don’t move from your house for pleasure, open windows as much as you can, protect yourself from the media.”
Users of Telekom Albania received a slightly different message, asking them to protect themselves against false information.
Rama’s relationship with the media is not a harmonious one. Over the last two years he has called journalists stupid, illiterate, human rights abusers, prostitutes, dogs, ignorant, and parasites. He has also tried to pass a law that would bring all online media platforms de facto under the control of his government. His dislike of the media is mainly due to their persistence in unearthing the complex web of corruption, misuse of public funds, vote buying and concession scandals that plagued him, and his government.
Other press freedom violations detailed in the press release include the arrest and detention of Serbian journalist Ana Lalic. Her apartment was raided and her mobile phone and computer were seized after she published a story detailing the shortcomings of a local hospital’s management of Coronavirus.
According to RSF, this along with the other examples included in the statement is another “grim illustration of the fact that while journalists contribute to fighting COVID-10 they become collateral victims themselves, facing attacks by various enemies of press freedom – including, regrettably, also some governments – who take advantage of the situation by prosecuting their critics.”
Albania currently ranks at number 82 in the RSF World Press Freedom Index 2019. You can see a list of attacks on journalists in 2019 here, and a list of insults used by Rama against the media since 2018 here.