From: The Editors
How Albanian Diplomats Attempt to Influence and Intimidate Foreign Media Reporting

Albanian diplomats have been trying to interfere with media outlets in EU countries that report events in Albania, according to a number of sources.

Following several articles published in Austria that were critical of the Rama government, Exit has learnt that the Albanian Embassy in Vienna has made requests to meet the editors and journalists responsible, in an attempt to influence them.

The first article, published in November 2018 by highly respected conservative broadsheet, Die Presse mentioned Albania in the context of a worrying trend of eastern and southeastern alignment with regimes such as Turkey, Russia, and China.

The piece noted that Albania derives a “significant part of its income from the cultivation of illicit drugs” and referred to Rama as a ‘thoroughly washed-up friendly man” with tendencies in line with Turkish authoritarian Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“Corruption has geopolitical consequences. Russia, China and Turkey use the criminal, ex-communist cliques on the edge of the EU to expand their influence. In particular, the growing Turkish influence is often underestimated. It’s not just about building mosques and promoting minority communities. In Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania, Erdoğan is working to bring Muslim parties, associations, foundations and media under his control.”

It also highlighted the controversial founding of Air Albania and the construction of Vlorë Airport, naming Turkey as a “major player” in both projects, whilst alleging that money laundering was a part of the deal.

These sentiments were echoed in a subsequent article by another Austrian portal, Paneuropa which made a number of allegations regarding links between Rama and his Socialist Party, and the political pressure from Turkey.

The article explains how last March, the General Council of the Albanina Muslim community elected, by a two-thirds majority, a new chairman, Bujah Spahiu. The government however had been lobbying for another candidate, Ylli Gurra. Considered as a “candidate of Turkish President Erdoğan”, the brother of the President was even present in Albania at the time of the election. According to the article, representatives of the Turkish government in Albania were involved in pressuring the government to support him.

It continues that “Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj and Socialist Party leader Taulant Balla have worked hard for Gurra” and gave him their full support.

Whilst the Albanian Embassy denied any such links, the portals that reported it seem resolute in their sources.

The article also describes country’s drug cultivation, which is linked to “the highest government circles”, adding that they are accused of using drug proceeds to buy votes on a massive scale during the 2017 elections.

Another article that apparently angered the Albanian government was one that appeared in Der Standard, which referred to Rama as an “authoritarian ruler” — noting that this reality is not being reported on in Western media. The author also accuses Rama of exploiting the Serbian/Kosovo/Albanian problem for his own personal political gain.

The fact that the Albanian ambassador in Vienna has asked to meet newspaper editors on direct orders from the Prime Minister is a matter of great concern. Whilst Rama is well known for his control of the narrative and media in Albania, this latest move is a worrying example of attempts to silence critics abroad, as well.

But this is not the first time that the Rama administration has behaved in this way with foreign media outlets.

Another source, this time from within the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, detailed how a media outlet in another EU state had received a harshly worded letter after the publication of an article on the current political turmoil in the country.

The foreign correspondent had authored a neutral article reporting on the protests, but including quotes from Albanians, detailing their reasons for taking to the streets.

This letter—seen in part by Exit—was also followed by a face-to-face visit from the Albanian Ambassador.

The Albanian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ambassadors involved failed to respond to questions sent by regarding their policy of instructing diplomats to meet with journalists and editors, critical of the Rama regime.

These latest moves by Rama bear the hallmark of the communist regime in China. Following a recent investigation by Reporters Without Borders, it was found that the Chinese government had attempted to silence and influence media from beyond its borders. According to the report, Chinese embassies are notorious for their tendency to try to intimidate journalists by openly attacking media portals that criticize their country.

Journalists in Canada, Australia, Sweden and the US have been harassed and even threatened by Chinese diplomats seeking to censor foreign criticism of their government.