IPI: PM Edi Rama must reverse journalist press conference ban

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Open letter to Prime Minister Edi Rama from international press freedom groups over decision to ban journalists from press conferences

 

Dear Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania,

CC.

Endri Fuga, Director General of the Media and Information Agency

Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement

Alexis Hupin, Chargé d’affaires at EU Delegation to Albania,

Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Yuri Kim, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Albania

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Dear Prime Minister Rama,

The undersigned media freedom and freedom of expression organisations are writing to protest against your recent decision to unilaterally ban journalists from attending government press conferences and demand they undergo “re-education” after they asked challenging questions about matters of public interest.

Our organisations are concerned that these arbitrary restrictions seriously affect the ability of the press to carry out its watchdog role and seek answers about challenging issues. They are also emblematic of deeper problems regarding access to information for journalists and the obstruction of free and independent journalism in Albania, which ranks 103rd in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, dropping annually by 20 places.

We note that during a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Olta Xhaçka on 1 July 2022, you responded to questions asked to the minister by journalist Klevin Muka of CNN affiliate A2 by telling him that he had violated the journalistic code of ethics and that he needed to undergo three months of “re-education” before he would be welcome at future press events.

In our assessment, the questions from Mr. Muka involved a legitimate matter of public interest on the recently established Code of Ethics of the Council of Ministers and potential conflicts of interest involving the minister in question, and therefore justified a response. Instead, he now faces an arbitrary three-month ban from press conferences, which will seriously affect his ability to properly carry out his professional duties.

Concerningly, we note this is not the first time a journalist has faced such a restriction. During a press conference outside the headquarters of the Socialist Party in March 2022, you told Syri.net TV journalist Ambrioza Meta that she required “re-education” and was barred from press conferences for 60 days, after she asked public interest questions about the arrest of a Socialist party MP and a corruption case linked to incinerators.

To our understanding, no formal administrative sanction exists in Albania which allows journalists to be unilaterally banned from attending government press conferences by individual politicians, even those holding executive office. It is our view therefore that the measures imposed on both Klevin Muka and Ambrioza Meta were arbitrary and unjustified.

In a democratic society, it is not the role of elected officials to personally impose disciplinary measures on individual journalists over what they consider to be alleged breaches of ethics. We therefore urge you to immediately reverse the restriction on Klevin Muka and to refrain from imposing such measures on all members of the press in the future.

Our organisations believe strongly in professionalism and integrity of the journalistic profession, for which there are important initiatives in Albania underway. However, adherence to journalistic ethics and standards should be observed and handled from within the journalistic community itself, rather than imposed by political forces.

More generally, we see these restrictions as illustrative of wider problems regarding access to information for journalists and media freedom in Albania, issues our organisations have repeatedly raised concerns about. We also note the protest organised by journalists in Tirana on 4 July 2022, which criticised the restriction as emblematic of broader efforts by political forces to dictate what questions can and cannot be asked by journalists at press conferences.

We hope to see this situation remedied as quickly as possible. Moving forward, our organisations will also continue to monitor the situation for media freedom in Albania and to push for measures which foster a better climate for independent and watchdog media. We look forward to seeing your response and welcome any opportunity for further discussion.

Signed:

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

SafeJournalists Network