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Press Freedom Deteriorating in Albania

FILE - Albanian President Ilir Meta speaks during a news conference in capital Tirana, Albania, June 10, 2019.

A mission of seven international press freedom organizations has published a preliminary report on the difficulties faced by journalists in Albania.

The report says press freedom in Albania has deteriorated and the government is not transparent, while politicians use harsh language against the media.

The joint mission in Tirana was comprised of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

Sarah Clarke with the advocacy group "ARTICLE 19" said in a press conference that the mission members are worried about self-censorship and expressed shock by the close ties between politicians, media owners and interest groups, as well as the way media in Albania is funded, which she says makes journalism difficult when reporting against corruption and legal violations.

After a series of meetings with media and government representatives, they noted that Albania is not fulfilling the obligations of domestic law, as a member of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and aspiring candidate for EU membership.

"We think that with regard to press freedom, Albania is one of the countries with the greatest problems in the region," said Oliver Vujovic from the SEEMO organization.

The report notes that physical attacks on journalists have gone unresolved, while top public officials regularly use language that belittles and smears critical journalists.

Attila Mong of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists said the mission also noticed a reluctance of Albanian journalists to denounce cases of pressure on them for fear they may suffer worse consequences if they do so.

Scott Griffen from the International Press Institute said that in Europe and the Balkans, governments are trying to hamper free reporting and impose their own messages on journalists.

"We have noticed that in Albania, too. This should not be accepted because it is not normal. Governments can give their views, but the reporter is free to cover the story from their own point of view, without being influenced," Griffen said.

The press freedom organizations reported that "the public administration, including the office of the prime minister and the mayor of Tirana, are not transparent in their interactions with the media and restrict access to critical journalists."

“Recently proposed media-related legislation, including a draconian regulation scheme for Albanian and foreign online media outlets, is not in line with international human rights standards," the organizations say in their report.

The delegation gathered information and held meetings with journalists, editors, representatives of civil society, international organizations, embassies in Tirana and senior government officials and Prime Minister Edi Rama. The mayor of Tirana Erjon Veliaj refused to meet with the delegation.

"Although prison sentences for defamation were repealed in 2012, defamation and insult remain criminal offenses punished by a criminal fine, and recent years have seen proposals to reintroduce criminal laws against defaming top state officials," the organizations said.

The delegation expressed concern about what journalists described as a rising number of politically motivated defamation cases against journalists filed by politicians, often requesting disproportionate sums in damages.

"Even without the threat of jail sentences, the potential of facing a criminal conviction for their work can lead journalists to practice self-censorship. We strongly recommend Albania to fully repeal all criminal defamation and insult laws," the coalition said.