Press freedom in Albania is “deteriorating”, a coalition of press freedom organizations including the International Press Institute (IPI) said today following a three-day mission to the southeastern European country.
In its preliminary findings, the coalition highlighted numerous challenges to independent journalism in Albania, including unresolved physical attacks against journalists, smear campaigns targeting the critical press and recently proposed media legislation that would impose a draconian regulatory regime for online media.
The coalition also said the “Albanian public administration restricts access to independent journalists and utilizes its own communications formats to bypass critical media and control the narrative”. Journalists and civil society groups told the mission that top officials, including Prime Minister Edi Rama, prevent media from independently covering press conferences and election campaign events, instead “imposing government-controlled video feed and other materials on media outlets”.
“We are concerned that Albania, a democracy, a member State of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and a candidate country for the European Union, is not living up to its obligations to guarantee and safeguard freedom of expression and press freedom as required under Albanian law and international instruments including the European Convention on Human Rights”, the coalition said.
The mission, which consisted of representatives from IPI, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), supported by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), took place amid growing tensions and anti-government protests in Albania over a contested upcoming local election.
In the capital, Tirana, delegates met with journalists; editors-in-chief; representatives of civil society, international organisations and foreign embassies present in Tirana; and senior government officials, including Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. The mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, refused to meet with the delegation.
Rama disputed most of the concerns raised by the coalition. However, he committed to stop using certain belittling language toward journalists and to considering the possibility of fully repealing criminal defamation laws in Albania. He also indicated that the government would shortly introduce changes to a bill tabled last December that would have given authorities the power to shut down or block Albanian and international online media without a court order. The coalition said the initial bill amounted to “state regulation of online media … and would have a detrimental impact on freedom of expression and information and press freedom in Albania”.
The preliminary findings contained a series of recommendations for Albanian authorities, journalists and civil society groups.