In the latest instance of persecution against his media work in Albania, Artan Rama has been hit with a civil lawsuit demanding that he pay thousands of euros over a text published on his news programme’s Facebook page.
On 17 November 2016, the shareholders of construction company Edil Al-It filed a defamation lawsuit against Rama in the Civil Court of the First Degree of Tirana District. Despite previous troubles regarding coverage of a business venture involving the mayor of Tirana, Rama said this is the first time he has been sued.
The organisation Res Publica is legally representing Rama, while the ECPMF is giving €1000 to support his case, which had a court hearing on 17 February. It was the plaintiff’s turn to speak then.
“The representative of Res Publica considered the development of the session as positive,” Rama told the ECPMF following the hearing.
The basis for the lawsuit
The Edil Al-It lawsuit came after Rama had published several critical articles about their involvement in benefiting illegally from public money. The plaintiffs allege that one of the articles damaged the company’s image, and requested that the journalist pay about €110,000 in damages.
Rama stated before the court hearing:
If we would have a look at the court statistics in cases where journalists are sued, we would see that this lawsuit against me is one of the highest rewards that has ever been requested for damage of this kind. The amount of €110,000 aims not only to put pressure on the journalist but to destroy him definitely.
However, at the 17 February hearing, Edil Al-It decided it will come up with a smaller amount in damages because only one of the shareholders of the company is represented in the lawsuit, Rama said. The defence is scheduled to be heard on 17 March.
The article recounts that two construction companies won a public bid to renovate the public theatre in Tirana. In it, Rama claims he found out that one of the bid winners had unmet tax obligations.
According to Albanian national law, companies with tax debts cannot benefit from public bids. The journalist based his article on a document containing the logo of the Albanian Ministry of Finance, and the signature of a civil servant.
The document says that Edil Al-It had tax debts. The company is questioning the document, saying that it does not have a stamp.
While the plaintiff confirmed to the judge on 17 February that Edil Al-It had met its tax obligations upon entering the bid, they did not give a clear answer as to whether that had been the case for the period written about in the article, according to Rama.
Investigations by Públicus
Rama told the ECPMF that Públicus is now online-only after being pulled from Vizion Plus TV late last year on its third episode. The programme had already acquired a reputation for hard-hitting journalism related to “public properties, transparency and the corruption of state officials” in Albania, Rama said.
The cancellation of Públicus by the channel’s parent company, Media Vision, drew accusations of censorship, which the company denied at the time. The episode that was about to be aired focused on Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj’s involvement with a recycling plant where a 17-year-old worker named Ardit Gjoklaj died in August.
The Democratic Party accused the mayor of demanding that the programme be cancelled. Rama claims there are connections between the mayor and a shareholder behind both the TV channel and construction company that have spilled over into his current case.
The journalist says he is concerned with the situation of journalists in Albania, a society in transition from a public to private ownership structure. While trying to do their job reporting on abuses of power and conflicts of interest, media professionals are caught in between corrupt public “administration [on one side] and on the other, the private interest whose concern is to benefit unjustly”.
This article was first published by the ECPMF.