Albanian Premier Edi Rama has said online media can cause damage in the same way as Nazi propaganda, pedophilia and terrorism. Critics say he is using this view to justify his attempts to restrain media freedoms.
According to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, online media in Albania can potentially be as harmful as Nazi propaganda, pedophilia and terrorism.
Rama voiced this opinion during the 8th OSCE South East Europe Media Conference "Journalism in times of crisis," which took place recently in the Albanian capital, Tirana.
"When you try to imagine what the Nazi propaganda machine would do to the world with this freedom of speech, it's shocking," said Rama. "Or even without trying to imagine it at all, you try to assess the damage occurring in everyday life from sources of evil in this world — terrorism, fundamentalism, pedophilia, diseases of modern society — that through freedom of dissemination … can affect many human beings, groups in need and weak parts of our societies."
Gjergj Erebara, a journalist working for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN Albania, feels that Rama is using this view as an excuse to defend a controversial and widely opposed anti-defamation package introduced in 2018, which is considered by many to be a "war" against online media.
"Rama's statement was a forced and not very convincing attempt to reiterate that he himself strongly believes that freedom is excessive and that he has the foresight to address abuses of freedom of expression, but that we all misunderstand him and see him as an aspiring dictator, when, in fact, he has good intentions, such as protecting us from Nazism or protecting children from pedophilia", Erebara told DW.
Degradation of the media in Albania
Erebara also stresses that laws and initiatives that seek to censor the media are not the only problem: "Rama has demonstrated throughout his political career his desire to control all kinds of media. Journalists know this and are witnesses to the fact that his model of media corruption, which has access to public decision-making, is the main factor that has led to the continuous degradation of the media in Albania over the last 15 years."
Erebara goes on to say that the Media and Information Agency, which was recently established in Albania, is "a formalization of what the government has done illegally so far."
Suing journalists for defamation
Dorian Matlija has been working as a lawyer in Albania for 17 years. Over the past 11 years, he has represented journalists in the courts on behalf of the organization Res Publica. At the moment, he and his colleagues are defending journalists in no fewer than 50 lawsuits. Matlija says that although a number of different kinds of lawsuits are being brought against journalists, the cases dominate where journalists are being sued for defamation .
"Two new phenomena have emerged recently: First, SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuits, which are lawsuits where the plaintiff does not necessarily aim to win but are intended to waste journalists' time and resources and discourage other journalists from writing critical articles about powerful politicians or businesses; secondly, the defamation campaigns, which are a collection of articles by one or more other media outlets that, for non-media interests, seek to damage a journalist's reputation and credibility in the public eye," Matlija told DW.
Fighting journalists with more sophisticated means
Matlija notes that fewer criminal cases are being brought against journalists today than in the past. This means that Albania is witnessing what Matlija refers to as "a sophistication of the war" where seemingly less brutal but actually more harmful means are being used to promote self-censorship among journalists.
According to Matlija, while the courts have in general been positive toward journalists, there have been political interventions in the decision-making process. "In specific cases, judges have taken unfavorable decisions due to the political or economic importance of special entities. I mention here the case of lawsuits filed by Prime Minister Edi Rama, which in my view as a professional have been largely accepted in controversial decisions."