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08.12.2017

“Free reporting risks losing battle with propaganda and cronyism in Albania”

By Emil Weber

The Tirana Court dismissed on 1st December 2017 a high damage compensation application from a company against Albanian investigative journalist, Artan Rama.

Artan Rama Artan Rama

Mr. Rama had published an article in Facebook, in his Publicús program account, reporting that the company “Edil Al-it” had participated in a public tender despite its failure to pay tax obligations. In November 2016, the company lodged a defamation application asking 110,000 Euros for damage compensation. The company questioned the authenticity of a tax document on which the reporting was based.

“As much as disturbing, it (the court case) was strange”, Mr Rama told the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. “All of a sudden I was facing a suit from a company worth billions of Lekë (Albanian currency) which was asking from me a huge compensation for damage to their image. The amount sought was a national record: equivalent to 110,000 Euros. Clearly, the aim was to devastate the journalist.. It’s a company, whose shareholders control media, public tenders are involved… the pressure was huge”.

He says he reached out to several colleagues and local journalists’ organisations.

“Nobody reacted. Everything was proceeding silently. The sole support came from abroad. I want to note the support from the ECPMF”

The ECPMF supported Mr Rama with 1000 Euros. According to reporter.al, “Edil Al-it” is part of the “Edil Al” group which includes Vision Plus television where the investigative program Publicús was broadcast until it was closed down unexpectedly in 2016.

Mr. Rama says that his defence Res Publica, a centre for judicial support, managed to present strong arguments at the court “exhibiting fuller circumstances of connections between media, political power and their mutual benefits, proving that those articles were aiming at criticising the way the public money was spent and not the parties”. 

“The judicial process was fairly long, also due to the fact that the Ministry of Culture, as the authority that issued the tender, delayed the documents requested by the court”, Mr Rama told ECPMF. “Yet, the court insisted on them and thanks to its insistence on  transparency, additional irregularities were found in the dossier in question”.

He argues that “the goal of the company’s suit was not to re-establish its image, as the company pretended, but to restrict journalists from reporting on public work tenders, where such companies participate”.

Prime Minister: "Don't talk to journalists - you'll spoil your digestion"

According to Mr Rama, in Albania the façade of freedom shines, but behind it lies a different reality. He says political pressure against media, the bleak public opinion of journalists, and the increasing use of defamation cases in  the courts are all impacting media freedom. 

“Where one should look for the media freedom? A few weeks ago, during a meeting, the Prime Minister advised the business leaders not to meet journalists, because such meetings would disturb their digestion!“

“Of course, here, we still do not see journalists jailed like in Turkey, or executed with bombs like in Malta, but still the journalists are beaten and offended in public”, Mr Rama says. “The free reporting is in danger of losing the battle with propaganda and well-financed cronyism.  I think that the freedom on paper is not enough, as long as the possibilities to arrive to the truth are reduced”.





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