The Albanian government commonly uses disinformation against investigative journalists, civil society activists, and other seeking to hold powerful interests to account, according to a study for the Policy Department for External Relations in the EU Parliament.
The report, entitled ‘Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans and Identifying Ways to Effectively Counter Them’ looks at the sources and impact of disinformation in the Western Balkans.
One of the biggest disinformation related issues in the report relates to the dissemination of disinformation for political purposes. The study found that Rama had been accused of using disinformation to boost his visibility and standing, and sometimes for no purpose at all.
“In fact, Rama was forced to make a public apology in March 2020 for fabricating allegations that Spanish officials were deploying violent police tactics to stop the spread of COVID-19. His ‘evidence’ turned out to be a video of Algerian riot police attacking protestors,” it wrote.
Furthermore, it noted that Albania has the biggest disinformation challenges in the region, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
While the government claims that foreign interference is a threat, the study found that it forms a “relatively small part of the Albanian disinformation landscape” and that the government use disinformation tactics themselves. It added that the overwhelming majority of Albanian disinformation is domestic in origin and purpose.
Overall, disinformation is a ubiquitous feature of domestic political competition. The study found that disinformation campaigns are often short-lived and there is “relatively little evidence of attempts by foreign powers to distort Albanian politics or international affairs”.
The report also highlighted that powerful political interests were able to co-opt anti-disinformation legislation in order to protect their own ability to benefit from disinformation operations.
“In Albania for example, watchdogs have accused Prime Minister Edi Rama of tailoring anti-disinformation legislation to silence opponents while leaving loopholes for his own extensive media resources.”
The main distributors of COVID-19 related misinformation during the pandemic included mainstream media outlets Top Channel, JOQ Albania, and Gazeta Tema. Others found to be distributing disinformation on a regular basis on social media include the above, and ORA News.
Another issue that was noted in the report was reporting on Turkey-related matters. This has often been promoted by political leaders including Prime Minister Edi Rama. These reports focus on “fruitful and friendly meetings with Erdogan” and also regarding Turkish aid provided to Albania.
While the report did not consider this as disinformation, and most of the content was factual, it pursued an agenda and was a matter of “spin”. They said it may have been created with the intention of contrasting with the aid sent by the EU. Overall, it was a tone of praising Turkey and Erdogan personally.