Press Freedom in Albania Under Threat: Increased Violence and Legal Pressures on Journalists

 In Tirana, activists and organizations defending press freedom have raised alarms over the deteriorating state of Albanian media and the growing threats against journalists. The Western Balkans Safe Journalists Network reported 10 incidents compromising the safety of journalists and media workers in the first four months of this year, with 24 cases recorded last year. Moreover, lawsuits against journalists doubled in 2023, VOA reports.

A hand bound with barbed wire holding a microphone and in the background a black and white outline of the Albanian flag
 A hand bound with barbed wire holding a microphone and in the background a black and white outline of the Albanian flag (montage)
Blerjana Bino, a representative of the Scidev Center which conducts research for the Safe Journalists Network, told Voice of America that derogatory language against journalists, anti-media rhetoric, attacks on female journalists, and the surge in lawsuits—from 33 cases in 2022 to 73 in 2023—pose significant concerns. 

“Our monitoring over the years shows that while direct physical attacks are not systemic in Albania, intimidation, threats, and indirect pressures due to intertwined relationships and hidden interests between politics, media owners, and sometimes organized crime, create an unsafe environment and hinder independent, quality journalism in the public interest,” Bino explained.

A roundtable discussion involving journalists, parliament representatives, government officials, judiciary members, and Western diplomats was held to address the precarious situation of journalists in Albania. The participants highlighted that these pressures push journalists towards self-censorship and prioritizing the interests of media owners over journalistic ethics.

Flutura Kusari, a representative of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, also spoke to Voice of America, emphasizing the continuous decline in media freedom in Albania, as reported by Reporters Without Borders. She called for immediate action by officials and politicians to enforce laws and standards for press freedom, starting with a safety plan for journalists and greater dialogue with civil society organizations.

“The safety of journalists in Albania is a serious concern. Journalists face verbal abuse and insults, with little being done to protect them. I hope to see an end to verbal attacks on journalists and the cessation of the so-called 'cassette methodology,' where pre-prepared government, party, and municipal materials replace free reporting. Journalists should be allowed to attend official activities and conduct normal press conferences, enabling them to ask questions freely and report accurately,” Kusari stated.

At the same meeting, Albania’s General Prosecutor Olsian Çela underscored the increased transparency of his office with the media and the proactive investigation of violence and threats against journalists. He invited journalists to report incidents promptly to initiate investigations and strengthen their protection.

“In 2023, we received only six reported cases of violence against journalists. There appears to be a disconnect between what journalists report and the cases formally filed with law enforcement. These cases involve criminal offenses such as assault due to duty, threats, property destruction, and one instance of unlawful detention. Two cases are already in court, and two more are nearing that stage. This demonstrates our commitment to taking these matters seriously and conducting swift investigations. Protecting journalists should be a priority amidst our numerous high-priority cases,” Çela said.

Kristina Voko, representing the investigative journalism network BIRN, voiced concern over the continuous targeting of journalists reporting on significant investigative processes initiated by SPAK, parliamentary developments, and the creation of a commission against disinformation. Initially welcomed as a support mechanism, this commission's focus has shifted away from essential recommendations like aligning with European legislation and directives, adopting GDPR, and preparing for the Digital Services Act.

“We are seeing this commission lose focus from continuous international report recommendations, such as aligning with European legislation, adopting GDPR, and the upcoming obligation to align with the Digital Services Act. The commission should focus on recommendations from entities like ODIHR concerning propaganda regulation through prepared tapes and the influence of political parties on media editorial processes. I urge lawmakers to start addressing the main pollutants of the information space—political parties, foreign influences, and their impact on democratic processes like elections—before regulating platforms and expanding discussions on self-regulation methods for online media,” Voko emphasized.

The roundtable also highlighted that journalists' working conditions and economic security remain critical issues. In 2022, only six cases were reported to the Labor Inspectorate, compared to 26 in 2023. Many incidents go unreported, continuously restricting the space for public-interest journalism.
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