Prime Minister Edi Rama has called the Reporters Without Borders’s assessment of press freedom in Albania a “lie” and “fantasy” after the country dropped a staggering 20 places in one year.
On Tuesday morning, RSF released its annual World Press Freedom Index, where Albania ranked 103 out of 180 for 2022, and its score fell to 56.41 after receiving a 69.41 in 2021.
The report criticises the media landscape for its lack of independence, insufficient protection of source confidentiality, and attacks against local journalists. In addition, it notes political pressure and legal means used to silence media, including lawsuits and legislation.
Shortly after the report was released, Rama took to Twitter to dispute its findings.
“There is no intimidation of media in Albania, nor obstruction of journalists’ freedom. In fact, in Albania, more and more people fall victims to slander, lies and fake news! There is talk of trials against journalists, when in fact there are none! There is talk of anti-defamation law when in fact it does not exist!”, Rama tweeted.
The anti-defamation package was cited as a cause for concern by both the RSF and the Freedom House’s report on Albania last week. While the package is currently tabled, it has not been struck from the Parliament’s agenda and can be passed with a simple majority at any time.
“Journalists victims of police violence in Albania? What a lie! Journalists critical of the government face political attacks? What a fantasy! Ethical self-regulation in the Albanian media? What a mockery! Only the title is missing: We complain about the lack of freedom because we do not know what to do with freedom!”, Rama continued.
In fact, there have been several documented cases of physical attacks against journalists over the last year, including multiple attacks by the police themselves. By and large, these attacks are characterised by a lack of further action by the Albanian authorities.
Furthermore, Albanian media launched the first self-regulatory platform in 2020 with the support of UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union. The board, comprising media and legal experts, analyses complaints and orders actions to be taken by which member media are bound.
Rama also denied there were any trials against journalists. Over the course of two years, between 2018 and 2020, his political party filed a total of 35 lawsuits against media and civil society; meanwhile, calls to decriminalise defamation have gone unheeded. Furthermore, there are currently multiple SLAPP suits in the courts, including ones against a journalist who revealed government corruption.
Finally, the prime minister wrote that he is aware that his tweets (which do not mention the Index directly) will be construed as an attack and pressure against the media.
“But I find it impossible to remain silent when I see how some mock the freedom of speech and how freedom of the press becomes the freedom to oppress, violate the facts, people and places,” he concluded.
Rama’s claims that Albanian media spread fake news and misinformation have been crucial to the push for an anti-defamation package which would bring all online media under the control of a government-appointed body headed by Rama’s former communications aid.
In the past, RSF itself has asked the European Union to demand a clear engagement by the Albanian government concerning the protection of journalists and media freedom, especially regarding the anti-defamation law and the controversial Media and Information Agency.