Two recent verbal assaults on journalists in Albania – by political militants and Prime Minister Edi Rama – show clear friction between politics and media.
Marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on 2 November, Albanian President Ilir Meta organized a reception with journalists, expressing his solidarity and respect for their mission.
Meta made a public call for respecting integrity and professionalism of journalists and called on all state institutions to react immediately in cases of violence against journalists or infringement of media freedom.
However, this event and the statement came soon after two recent verbal assaults on journalists – by political militants and Prime Minister Edi Rama, showing clear friction between politics and media.
Both incidents happened in the midst of the heavy political situation following the publication of reports on the suspected involvement of the former Minister of Internal Affairs Saimir Tahiri in Albanian-Italian drug trafficking activities.
Surrounded by his political supporters, Tahiri was being interviewed by a group of journalists outside the parliament on October 21. Unhappy with a question posed by one of the reporters (Klodiana Lala), some of the supporters verbally threatened and assaulted her, while there was no reaction from the former minister.
The second episode concerns Prime Minister Edi Rama, who has a history of difficult communication with journalists and open disapproval of the quality of media coverage in the country. An interview he gave to journalists on October 25 marked a new low point in his communication record with the media.
The interview, broadcast live on several TV stations, came immediately after the ruling majority voted against lifting immunity for Tahiri. Rama went to talk with journalists outside the parliament violating all premises of communication ethics and decency.
The Prime Minister was selective in answering questions and openly derided questions posed by some journalists, while refusing to take questions of other journalists despite their repeated attempts to pose the same questions.
Rama said that the journalists should read and study more in order to do their job properly, implying that they are incompetent and ignorant.
He reiterated his opinion that the media were not properly informing the public and carrying out their public mission, as the media and journalists needed to educate themselves first of all.
In addition, Prime Minister Edi Rama considered the media as a mere transmitter of public opinion, saying that they only conveyed statements of politicians, but did not manage to understand or to investigate these statements for the public.
Finally, he also said that the “stupid” nature of questions of the journalists was also putting him into difficult position, forcing him to address hearsay and different statements.
At the end of this tense interview, some of the journalists removed the microphones trying to put an end to this communication.
The episode sparked immediate reaction of journalist organizations. The Association of Professional Journalists, the League of Albanian Journalists, and the Association of Electronic Media published a joint declaration expressing their deep concern and indignation regarding this act, a repeated one as they noted, which led to intimidation of journalists.
The Union of Albanian Journalists reflected the same sentiment in their statement considering that the offensive language used by the Prime Minister towards journalists has become a deeply-seated trend. The Union called for a one-day boycott of the Prime Minister’s activities. Although there were reactions in the media, the boycott did not take place.
The European Federation of Journalists joined the statement of the Albanian associations.
Other political figures reacted, exclusively from the opposition camp. The leaders of the two major opposition parties condemned the act and called on international actors to contribute to the protection of journalists.
These reactions, along with the President’s event and statement two weeks later, on 2 November, certainly show concern and solidarity with journalists, even though they are also part of the ongoing political struggle and moves in the country.
At the same time, all of these events also show difficult and non-transparent relations between politics and media in Albania – relations that have persisted with every change of government, although manifested in different ways.
The article is a contribution by the Albanian Media Institute, a SEENPM member organization.