Exclusive: Reporters Without Borders Says Albanian Government is Committed to EU Accession, but not Media Freedom

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2020, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said that while the Albanian government might be committed to progressing its EU membership, it is not committed to press freedom.

Speaking exclusively to Exit, Pavol Szalai, Head of the European Union and Balkans Desk said that the Albanian government has used two crisis as a reason to further vilify the media.

We cannot say the current government is clearly committed to press freedom. It is exemplified by the rhetoric. At the outset of the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Edi Rama called on the citizens in a pre-recorded phone message “to protect themselves against the media” among other, sanitary, threats. We have been worried, because in another crisis situation – the 2019 terrible earthquake – we saw the arrest of two journalists and one activist on the pretext of spreading fake news and causing panic, while critical online media were closed.

The independent media freedom organisation that operates across all continents also highlighted the aggressive smear campaigns against journalists during the last year. It noted that Exit.al and its journalists were just some of the recent victims.

These attacks said RSF, should be investigated and perpetrators swiftly brought to justice.

“The climate of impunity for crimes against journalists should disappear and the government, politicians, and public officials should refrain from hate speech and from undermining the credibility of independent and critical media.”

They also noted the incidence of physical attacks on journalists.

The safety of journalists is compromised by physical attacks that remain, moreover, unresolved. It is even more worrying if these attacks come from the police, as  happened in Albania during the demonstrations in 2019.”

When addressing judicial harassment, often used by officials to silence critical journalists, RSF said this was having a “chilling effect” on the media’s ability to do its job.

In terms of the proposed “anti-defamation law”, RSF said it will have a negative impact on press freedom in the country. They said the package should be withdrawn from Parliament and “the government should refrain from intervening into editorial policies of public or private media.”

RSF said that journalists are here to scrutinize the governments’ actions with a critical eye, contributing to the public interest. Furthermore, the rule of law and press freedom are “the EU’s fundamental values and the government of Albania, a European country, should do everything to protect and support them”.