Prime minister Edi Rama has challenged Albanian journalists and international media organizations to prove that the government’s new Media and Information Agency infringes on media freedom.
Rama pledges to close the not-yet-established agency if his critics bring sound arguments against its existence.
The agency that was launched last month is tasked with regulating all public and media relations for every ministry, and each minister’s public appearances. It will also appoint a public relations team in each ministry and other central institutions, according to the government’s decision. These employees are prohibited from talking to the press. All public information will first have to be approved by the agency director.
On Wednesday, Rama and Luigi Soreca, the top EU diplomat in Albania, held a press conference regarding the European Commission’s annual report on Albania. The report noted progress of reforms in most areas but stressed the lack of progress in media freedom. It highlighted that “the atmosphere of verbal attacks, smear campaigns and acts of intimidation against journalists has not improved,” and that the government still needs to address the issues of media authority, public service broadcaster’s independence, and draft-law on online media regulation.
Asked by journalists regarding a joint statement by international organizations against his decision to create the Agency for Media and Information, which will be tasked with centralizing all government information and public relations, Rama responded that journalists have no idea how the agency will work, and that contrary to their claims, it will defend their rights and freedom of speech.
“Do you even know what the Agency for Media and Information is? You, the six organizations? Modestly speaking, I think you have no idea at all what you’re talking about when you raise this issue,” Rama said.
He promised to meet with international organizations to present views from all sides, stressing that the agency is a tool “to guarantee maximum transparency” for journalists. He explained that one of its tasks will be to handle journalists’ complaints when public institutions fail to meet legal requirements on media freedom and don’t respond accordingly to journalists’ requests for information.
Rama criticized media outlets who “raise false alarms” in the foreign press before discussing the issues with his government. “You fill the world with false alarms of ghosts that are only in your imagination and do not exist,” he said.
He vowed to close the agency if journalists “bring at least one fact, one proof, one example, one reason, one single thing that makes sense”.