Mayor Accused of Censoring Albania TV Report

by Gjergj Erebara, BIRN Podgorica*
The producer of an investigative TV show claims it was pulled on Sunday because it probed the Mayor of Tirana’s links to a controversial recycling plant, though the TV station denies the show's content was the issue.

Erion Veliaj mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj mayor of Tirana (photo: privat)

After broadcasting only three episodes, the investigative TV show "Publicus" aired on Vision Plus TV station was scrapped on Sunday, sparking accusations of political censorship.

In its brief lifespan, the show had built up a reputation after exposing the government’s lack of preparedness to monitor waste imports into the country – a hot issue in Albania.

The show was abruptly canceled on Sunday, just as it was due to broadcast an investigation into Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj and the municipality’s ties to a recycling plant in the city’s Sharra landfill, where a 17-year-old worker died in early August.

The opposition Democratic Party claims the TV show was silenced on the direct orders of Mayor Veliaj.

Yesterday it was a bad day for freedom of the media, freedom of expression and for democracy in Albania,"

Democratic Party spokesperson Grida Duma said on Monday.  

After the TV show announced it would be broadcasting the investigation into Erion Veliaj’s role in the illegal enterprise in the Sharre Landfill that evening, Vision Plus cancelled it in a corrupt and abrupt manner,"

Duma added.

Admitting that the show had been canceled, Genc Dulaku, head of Vision Plus’s parent company, Media Vision, denied that they censored it because of the content.

"We had disagreements on administrative issues with the director of the show; he was late in editing it. I told him it was impossible to air it this week and that the show would continue next week, but he decided to leave," Dulaku said, referring to Artan Rama. "I can't censure a show that has not been produced," he added. 

The municipality of Tirana did not respond to a request from BIRN to reply to the allegation.

In a statement issued on Facebook on Sunday, Publicus said it had been shut down by the management of Vision Plus in a blatant act of censorship.

"The heads of Vizion Plus TV station notified us that they will not allow the airing of our third investigation, entitled 'The Deadly Mound', as scheduled [on Sunday, 10 October]. They also withdrew financial support for the show, including [the salaries] for its crew and it has already removed all the ads of the show from its online webpage," Publicus wrote.

The producer of the show, Artan Rama, told BIRN that after researching the programme on the landfill, the administrator of the TV station summoned him and told him to explain the content of the episode.  

On Sunday, we were notified that the show wasn't going to air, with no explanation given,”

Rama said.

Rama is the second journalist in Albania to have lost work after investigating the death of 17-year-old Arditt Gjoklaj – a worker at a controversial recycling plant promoted by Mayor Veliaj.

In August, after trying to air a report on the topic, the editor-in-chief of A1 News TV, Alida Tota, was also dismissed. Tota blamed her sacking on pressure from the Mayor of Tirana on the owners of the TV station.

*This article is written by Gjergj Erebara, Balkan Insight, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and is being republished with permission and thanks.