THE PRESS: 2009
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The independent daily Tema was abruptly evicted from its offices in a state-owned building in Tirana. Police barred staffers from entering the offices on January 8 on the orders of the Ministry of Interior, said Publisher Mero Baze, who noted that the newspaper had signed a 20-year lease in 2007. He said he believed the government had acted in retaliation for a series of articles published in fall 2008 that alleged high-level government corruption. (In December 2008, after the stories were published, Baze’s car caught fire and exploded, the Tirana-based Albanian Media Institute reported.) After the eviction, Baze continued to publish Tema in relocated offices, but he estimated the paper had lost about 500,000 euros (US$750,000) in improvements it had made to the old headquarters.
Several men viciously attacked Baze at a bar in downtown Tirana on November 2, after he published a series of critical reports in Tema and discussed them on his local television show, “Faktor Plus.” Baze told CPJ that he had accused Rezart Taci, a principal in local oil businesses, of tax evasion and had criticized authorities for inaction. Baze told CPJ that the businessman and his bodyguards had struck him repeatedly, causing him to lose consciousness. The assault was witnessed by two of Baze’s colleagues. In a statement to CPJ, Taci denied involvement into the attack and said Baze’s tax allegations were unfounded. Police arrested Taci on November 5 in connection with the assault, Reuters reported.
Four assailants on two motorcycles fired guns and threw an improvised explosive device at a parking lot of the Athens-based Alter TV station on February 17, the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) reported. The attack took place shortly before the station aired its prime-time newscast, but no injuries were reported, according to SEEMO and international press reports. Some vehicles were damaged. George Stergiopoulos, an Alter TV reporter, told CNN the attackers fired at least 13 shots before fleeing. The New York Times reported that a local radical group, Sect of Rebels, claimed responsibility and said it was targeting journalists for “colluding with the corrupt establishment.” The Associated Press said the group had also attacked a police precinct in Athens.
Anonymous death threats were made in mid-year against Jeta Xharra, head of the Kosovo office of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), and her colleagues. The threats followed the May 28 edition of BIRN-Kosovo’s weekly television program, “Life in Kosovo,” hosted by Xharra on public broadcaster Radio Television Kosovo (RTK). The program noted that authorities had harassed BIRN-Kosovo reporters who sought to interview residents of Skenderaj about campaign promises. A few days after the program aired, the local newspaper Infopress, which carries considerable government advertising, published at least three commentaries openly hostile to Xharra and her colleagues. A front page article accused the BIRN-Kosovo journalists of being Serbian spies, and a separate commentary likened “Life in Kosovo” to a “fascist campaign,” BIRN-Kosovo reported. A subsequent Infopress commentary said the author “would be honored to shake the hand” of anyone who would “punish” the reporting team. After the Infopress publication, anonymous, violent messages flooded the station’s e-mail inbox. CPJ wrote a protest letter to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and urged his government to investigate the threats and protect the BIRN-Kosovo journalists.
In April, authorities barred at least 19 journalists for Romanian newspapers, broadcasters, and news agencies from entering Moldova to cover anti-Communist rallies in the capital, Chisinau. Stefan Candea, vice president of the Bucharest-based Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism, told CPJ that border guards had given conflicting reasons for refusing the journalists entry. The government offered no official explanation. Approximately 10,000 protesters took to the streets to protest the April 5 parliamentary election, won by President Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party. The protesters said the elections had been rigged and called for a new vote; on the second day of protests, some protesters stormed and looted the Moldovan parliament and president’s office, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Voronin, whose government is allied with Moscow, accused Romania of encouraging pro-Western protests, according to The Associated Press. Dozens of people were injured and 200 arrested.
Slovenian authorities filed criminal defamation charges in July against Magnus Berglund, a producer for the Helsinki-based public broadcaster YLE, after his documentary alleged corruption in the Slovenian government, the broadcaster said. According to YLE, Berglund’s report accused Prime Minister Janez Jansa and others of accepting bribes in connection with a defense contract. Jansa denied the accusation and asked prosecutors to open a criminal probe against the journalist, international press reports said. YLE said it stood behind its story. According to the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), Jansa’s government also asked Finnish authorities to pressure YLE, claiming the broadcaster’s conduct “could shake mutual confidence between the two states.” The Finnish government refused the request, IPI said. Berglund said he would no longer travel to Slovenia for fear of being arrested, according to the news Web site EU Observer. The charges could bring up to six months in prison.
The High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, ruled in June that Suzanne Breen, an editor for the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune, had a right to protect her sources. The Police Services of Northern Ireland had sought a court order to force Breen to reveal her sources in the Real IRA, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army, whom she had interviewed for an April article, according to the London-based Guardian. The story quoted Real IRA members as claiming responsibility for the March killing of two British soldiers in the town of Antrim. The story also contradicted details included in the official account of the murder. According to the Guardian, Belfast police also demanded that Breen hand over her mobile phone, computer records, and interview notes. Breen refused to comply and argued that turning over her sources and notes could put her own life in danger, the Guardian reported.
Four assailants knocked down and kicked Jim McDowell, editor of the Belfast edition of the Dublin-based tabloid Sunday World, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, press reports said. McDowell told the BBC that one assailant said: “Your paper is trying to get my brother killed.” Two weeks earlier, supporters of four suspects in the 2001 murder of Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan had damaged McDowell’s car outside a Belfast courthouse, The Guardian reported. McDowell had reported on his colleague’s murder. Belfast police opened investigations into both attacks.