Recent verbal attacks on Albania’s media by Prime Minister Edi Rama have again raised concerns over respect for media independence in the country, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.

Last Thursday, Rama opened a two-day, EU-organised media conference in Tirana with a speech accusing his country’s media of violating and invading individuals’ dignity “from morning to midnight” and disseminating “fake news” that “obscures the truth”.

“The founding father of Italian journalism said you shouldn’t trust a rich journalist and I’m speaking about Albania where the media are growing like a tumour in the hands of the rich,” he added.

The incident came less than two weeks after Rama verbally attacked journalists outside Parliament following lawmakers’ vote to allow prosecutors to question former Interior Minister and current MP Saimir Tahiri over alleged links to international drug trafficking, but not to arrest him.

In a press conference, Rama blamed a media that “spouts accusations without understanding, without any sense of responsibility” as a cause of the country’s problems and he accused journalists of “confusing the audience with meaningless questions”.

The prime minister’s comments reportedly included statements such as “Your questions arise out of ignorance” and “You are so ignorant. You talk nonsense! You are disgusting! You’re just a gossip amplifier”.

Days later, at an event in Tirana to attract foreign investment in Albania, Rama told potential investors: “Don’t meet journalists and don’t read newspapers, because it will upset your digestive system.”

In June, Rama drew similar controversy after he appeared on a popular TV talk show and gave his opinions on journalists as the host named them. The prime minister responded to all but two of the 21 names given with comments such as “trash” and “poison”.

IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen criticised Rama’s attitude, saying that the tone it set damaged media freedom and efforts to improve government accountability in the country.

“Elected leaders are obliged to respect the role that the media plays in supporting democratic debate,” he said. “Prime Minister Rama’s comments not only actively undermine that role, but also suggest that aggressive behaviour toward the media in the face of unwanted criticism or questioning is acceptable. We urge the prime minister to set a better example for the Albanian public.”

Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, a journalist with independent Albanian media outlet Exit, said that Rama’s attitude was an attempt to intimidate journalists and suppress critical reporting.

“He has an utterly patronizing, patriarchal and even sexist approach against the media, which is problematic for a country that wishes to become a member of the EU,” van Gerven Oei commented.

Albania has a relatively vigorous and diverse media, but journalists’ ability to report or comment on topics is often influenced by media owners’ economic or political interests.

In recent months, observers have also expressed concern over a growing anti-media climate. Earlier this year, an appellate judge who serves on the country’s High Council of Justice sought to inflict punishing fines on media outlets and journalists that reported on his wealth and his status as a target in a corruption probe. The judge and his wife sought “moral damages”, accusing the media of spreading “false information”.

Van Gerven Oei, who noted that outlets like his that criticised the government are often excluded from official events, attributed the atmosphere to Rama.

“Rama is disproportionately responsible for this anti-media climate in Albania, because he is the largest media presence in the country,” the journalist said. “He appears to attack media whenever there is a government scandal. In my view, it is a diversion tactic, shifting the debate from the facts to the way in which the media reports on it.”