From: Alice Taylor
RSF Responds After Albanian Prime Minister Dismisses World Press Freedom Index

Reporters Without Borders has responded to the claims by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama that the reports of media violations in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index were “lies” and “fantasy”, by debunking him.

Albania fell 20 places in this year’s index to a historic low of 103, news that Rama did not take well. He took to Twitter to claim there is no intimidation of the media, no court cases against journalists, no anti-defamation package, no police violence, no political attacks, and added that there was no such thing as ethical self-regulation in the media.

Albanian Prime Minister Claims RSF Report Is Lies, Fantasy

Pavol Szalai, the head of the European Union and Balkans Desk released a statement on Friday in which he explained the methodology behind the ranking. He noted that the methodology had changed from 2020 to 2022 and that Albania had fallen partly due to this and partly due to other countries such as Serbia and North Macedonia rising.

However, he was clear that “in the period measured by the index, press freedom clearly deteriorated in Albania.”

He then went on to refute each of Rama’s claims, providing evidence of each one.

First, journalists do indeed suffer police violence. Examples from 2021 and early 2022 are here, here, here. Later in 2022, the police continued to use force arbitrarily against journalists (here and here). Beyond police violence, journalists are threatened by mafia or online, while the authorities are slow to react as shown by the case of the journalist Alice Taylor,” he wrote.

Szalai then noted that “contrary to the prime minister’s statement, journalists are regularly politically attacked in Albania.”  He noted Rama’s recent comparison of the media to Nazis, pedophiles, and terrorists at an OSCE conference.

In addition, the Prime Minister – reelected in 2021 – had a close associate of his party to be elected as head of AMA. This is the same media regulator which should be further and disproportionately strengthened by the anti-defamation package, a pending legislative proposal dangerous for press freedom. Moreover, in this context, the Prime Minister failed in 2021 to provide guarantees that the new centralisation of his government’s communication will not impede the right to information,” Szalai noted.

He added that acts such as these contributed to Albania’s low score in the “political context” section, second only to the “economic context” where it scored worst due to “the negative impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the financial health of Albanian media further aggravated by the opaque and unfair distribution of public funds to the detriment of the independent media.”

Lastly, on the topic of self-regulation that Rama said does not exist, Sazlai noted, “I would like to once again hail Ethical Media Alliance’s efforts to create a platform for ethical self-regulation, a very precious initiative to improve media ethics which is a serious issue in Albania.”

The European Commission also reacted to the news of Albania’s ranking following questions sent by Exit. A spokesperson said the Commission has taken note of the results, adding that “Respect of these fundamental rights is at the core of our policies and a key part of accession criteria and are continuously assessed throughout the accession process.”

The spokesperson added they are monitoring the progress and efforts required to consolidate the protection of the media in Albania and are engaged in making recommendations at a high political level.

“The Commission‘s annual reports on Albania also thoroughly assess these matters, based on input from a variety of sources, including contributions from the government, the EU Member States, European Parliament reports and information from various international and non-governmental organisations. It also includes the results of comparative assessments and indices produced by other stakeholders. The next annual report is expected to be published later this year,” they added.

Just a day after Rama denied any political attacks on journalists, RSF reported on an attack by him, against Syri TV reporter Ambrozia Meta.

Meta asked Rama about Albania’s fall in the RSF Index, and he replied by saying she needed to be “reeducated”. This came after he put her under a two month embargo, effectively banning her from any interaction with him after she asked him about the arrest of two members of his Socialist Party.

RSF tweeted, “such a scandalous information embargo has no place in a country that wants to join the EU”.