Attacks on the Press 2003: Albania

Albania’s contentious political environment and economic underdevelopment continued to make the country a relatively chaotic and difficult place for the independent press in 2003. Journalists faced government pressure, criminal libel lawsuits, arbitrary dismissal by politicized owners, and limited access to basic government information, particularly when investigating official corruption and organized crime. Furthermore, low professional standards, an editorial emphasis on sensationalism, and the financial influence of political parties over many media outlets give journalists little public credibility and often force the press to practice self-censorship.

Albanian media derive much of their income from advertising from state-run firms, and the government continued to use this carrot to divert advertising toward outlets that provided positive coverage of government polices and the ruling Socialist Party.

Prime Minister Fatos Nano’s government received favorable coverage from all three national television stations–Albanian State Television, the independent TV Arberia, and the independent TV KLAN–because his ruling Socialist Party retained strong influence over the state broadcaster Radio Television Albania (RTSH) and the broadcast regulatory body, the National Council on Radio and Television (NCRT).

In some cases, the government took a heavy-handed approach toward enforcing media regulations. The NCRT closed the independent broadcaster ALBA TV in August for violating regulations and not paying license fees. According to CPJ sources, because the closure violated legal procedures and was implemented so aggressively, management at other stations feared being shut down, creating a climate of self-censorship.

Intimidation and attacks against journalists are less common than they were in the 1990s, when war was blazing in neighboring Kosovo and the Albanian government was reeling from a national scandal over failed pyramid schemes.

Campaigning for October 12 local elections led to increased political pressure on media outlets, with politicians hurling wild accusations and counteraccusations against each other in the press. There were reports of threats against journalists, financial pressure on media outlets, and a series of lawsuits filed against journalists in the run-up to the poll. The most outrageous incident occurred two days after the elections at a celebration organized by the ruling Socialist Party. Minister of Public Order Luan Rama and his bodyguards beat journalist Ilir Babaramo, editor-in-chief of Vizion Plus TV, because he had helped produce a story about the ministry’s poor record in fighting crime. The prime minister dismissed Rama four days later, after an outcry by journalists and human rights and press freedom groups.

On October 1, five human rights and press freedom organizations filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court challenging a secret executive gag order issued by Prime Minister Nano in August 2002. The executive order prohibited senior government officials from providing journalists with information about their official activities. The five plaintiffs argued that the order violated domestic and international laws on freedom of expression. During a November 17 hearing on the case, a government representative informed the Constitutional Court that the executive order had been revoked, and the case was immediately closed.