Albania’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index increased by one place, but the overall score decreased during 2020.
After falling for several years down to 84th place in 2019 with a score of 30.59 out of a possible 100 (with 100 being the worst and 0 being the best), in 2020 it continued its downward trend once again.
It was beaten by Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Maldives, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. It performed better than neighboring North Macedonia, Serbia, and EU Member State Hungary.
Top of the list was Norway followed by Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Costa Rica. Others in the top ten included the Netherlands, Jamaica, New Zealand, Portugal and Switzerland. Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, China, and Djibouti came last in the rankings.
The increase in ranking is likely due to other countries getting worse, but the real story is told in the declining score.
2020 was a difficult year for Albanian journalists. With the controversial anti-defamation law still in parliament, its threat still hangs over media workers. In addition to this, the government included other provisions in the law which empower the government to shut media for 48 hours and impose fines of up to EUR 24,000 for breaches of impartiality during the electoral campaign. Draft laws that could potentially criminalize memes, and increase sentences and penalties for criminal defamation were also tabled.
It was also the year that saw armed special forces officers forcibly seize Ora News after its owner was investigated for links to drug trafficking. The authorities tried to shut down the station on a previous occasion due to alleged COVID-19 precaution violations.
Within the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Edi Rama sent a voice message to all Vodafone users telling them to protect themselves against COVID-19 “and the media”. Access to press conferences was also vastly restricted and Freedom of Information requests and questions to ministers and departments were ignored more regularly than in the previous year.
Then during the protests over the murder of Klodian Rasha by a policeman, four journalists were detained while on duty. Two said they were assaulted and had footage deleted, and another said he was forced to sign a statement he didn’t write in order to be released. Many journalists suffered exposure from tear gas used during the protests and also reported damaged equipment from water cannons.
Then, some days after the protests, journalist Ergys Mertiri was detained along with three Alliance for the National Theatre activists. He was kept in the police station for around four hours with no charge filed against him. Mertiri reported his mobile was seized and footage showing police violence was deleted.
This was after the demolition of the National Theatre in May which saw the arrest of the Editor of Politiko.al Alfred Lela was violently arrested while reporting on the protests. The police claimed he “wasn’t on duty” at the time. He was released without charge. But reported he was assaulted and verbally insulted by the police.
In October, a bomb was detonated outside the home of journalist Elidon Ndreka. Six months later, no one has been arrested in connection with the incident.
Exit New’s illustrator Diversanti was in the Theatre at the time the demolition started and was removed and arrested with force, by special forces who stormed the building. He was released without charge but reported the use of violence and excessive force by officers carrying semi-automatic weapons.
Exit was also subjected to a cyberattack that tried to delete its servers.
Several SLAPPs were also either initiated or threatened against journalists, including Exit, BIRN Albania, and journalist Artan Rama.
There were also several incidents including smear attacks against journalists, spurious lawsuits, vandalism attacks, threats and physical assaults, and sexual harassment claims. You can read more here.