Other attacks on journalists by public officials in Tirana, 29/03/2023

    Country AL
    Name and Surname Lolita, JoQ
    Gender Group Lolita, JoQ
    Date 29/03/2023
    City / Location Tirane
    Type of incident Other threats to journalists
    By whom By public officials
    Media name Lolita, JoQ
    Source https://dosja.al/draft/ne-emer-te-lali-eritje-gjobaxhi-veliaj-si-duron-dot-zerat-kunder-lincon-pr-i289573
    Was journalist`s association informed No

    Albania: Tirana Mayor Publicly Identifies Satirical Online Pages Admins, Sparking Safety Concerns 

    On 29 March 2023 in an event in Tirana for new public transport routes in the capital ahead of local elections on the 14th May 2023, the mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj identified two individuals as the alleged administrators of two anonymous online pages in Albania, namely Lolita and  ‘Jeta Osh Qef’,  leading to concern for the individual’s safety. Both pages are of public interest and actively engage in holding power to accountability through citizen reporting, satire, parody, and entertaining content, although not always adhering to ethical journalistic standards. The attempt of the mayor to identify publicly the administrators of these two online platforms that have remained anonymous for years now is unprecedented and has raised concerns.

    Veliaj’s decision to mention family ties and bring up the children of the woman he claims is the administrator of the online page Lolita is concerning. By involving the families and children of the alleged administrator, the mayor engages in personal attacks that go beyond the scope of his institutional role. This behavior is potentially harmful to the individuals and their families, who may be targeted because of the mayor’s accusations. The mayor’s statements, along with the full names of the alleged administrators, were promptly covered by pro-government media and several other media outlets across the country. Numerous verbal assaults and threats were directed at the two individuals in the comment sections of these media sources and on social media platforms.

    Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj accused these two online pages of imposing fines and blackmailing public transport companies (Event on 29 March 2023). The accusations have raised concerns over the potential misuse of power, particularly about the mayor’s decision to publicly identify the administrators behind these anonymous pages without providing concrete evidence of their alleged wrongdoings and by showing photos of the two individuals that appear to be from their ID cards.

    Veliaj added in another event on 31st March that a lawsuit against these individuals is being prepared for submission to the Tirana Prosecutor’s Office, implying a potential arrest of the individuals. He claimed that many businesses have expressed dissatisfaction with the individuals, as they impose fines against them. However, Veliaj has not presented any concrete evidence to support his accusations. To date and to the best knowledge of SJ Network in Albania, no business representatives have publicly come forward to confirm these allegations.

    The incident has sparked discussions about anonymity in the media sphere. Exposing the alleged identities of anonymous online page administrators without evidence and targeting their families sets a dangerous precedent that endangers the safety of these individuals and may discourage others from voicing their opinions or criticizing those in power. This is particularly concerning given that the pages in question are critical of the mayor himself, raising questions about whether this move is politically motivated. At the same time, ethical questions arise about the ways in which these online pages operate. While the possibility of anonymity allows individuals to express their opinions and criticize public figures without fear of retribution, at the same time these online pages have raised concerns about the quality of content they produce, about their professionalism and independence.

    Lolita is an online satire and parody page that has gained considerable attention and a significant following, with more than 230,000 followers. This popular page focuses on social and political issues, using humor and critical commentary to shed light on various topics and generate discussion among its audience. By creating and sharing satirical memes, the page engages its followers and sparks conversations on current events and pressing issues. The page’s content is often critical of politicians, public figures, and government policies.

    JOQ  declares itself as “JOQ Albania operates as a regulator for the lives of Albanians, promoting positive phenomena and denouncing negative ones”. JOQ was founded in October 2010 and has the largest online community for media outlets in Albania with more than 2 million followers. It publishes unverified content sent directly from citizens or as captured by JOQ staff without editorial filters or fact-checking.

    The Mayor of Tirana has been criticized for his approach to media before for not organizing press conferences, concentrating information, and limited access to information (SafeJournalists Report). For instance, the fact-finding mission in Tirana in November 2022 found that the practice of distributing pre-packaged written and audio-visual content to the media by the Mayor is problematic along with Prime Minister and others. “This communication strategy bypasses journalists and shields authorities from challenging questions. The same practice is employed by the mayor of Tirana, whose closely-curated content dominates television screens, shapes news coverage, and bypasses journalistic scrutiny” – the report states.

    It is important for an impartial investigation to be set in motion by relevant authorities for a fair examination of the situation, free from political bias or interference. It is vital to protect the rights of individuals to express their opinions and critique public figures without fear of retribution. It is also crucial for media organizations, including online pages, to adhere to high standards of ethical journalism, including verifying sources, promoting transparency, and avoiding disinformation.