Threats against media outlets and organisations, 10/03/2023, Tirana

    Country AL
    Name and Surname RTV Ora and News 24
    Gender Group RTV Ora and News 24
    Date 10/03/2023
    City / Location Tirana
    Type of incident Threats against media outlets and organizations
    By whom By public officials
    Type of media Radio and television online
    Media name RTV Ora and News 24
    Was journalist`s association informed No

    General Directorate of Taxation fines media outlets in Albania

    Over the past few weeks, media outlets have reported on the General Directorate of Taxation in Albania imposing fines on two TV stations, News24, and RTV Ora. RTV Ora has had a critical stance towards the government in the past years, while News24 became critical of the government in 2022.

    The first case involves RTV Ora, a Tirana-based TV station that was fined around 33 million leks (285,654 euros). On November 3, 2022, the Special Court for Corruption and Organized Crime invoked the “Anti-mafia Law” to confiscate most of the property of Ylli Ndroqi, including RTV Ora, which has been under state administration since 2020 (Safe Journalists Network article). The tax inspectors believe that it underreported its tax owning during this period. RTV Ora director Brahim Shima has stated to BIRN Albania that the fine is yet another attempt to shut down the station.

    In the second case, Focus News, the company that owns the News 24 channel, among other outlets online and in print, was fined around 20 million leks (173,000 euros). The Hysenbelliu Group, which owns News24 and was fined, told BIRN that this was one of several fines targeting their companies and claimed that the intention was to silence its media outlets. In September of last year, a hotel owned by the group was demolished by the government, which claimed it was illegally constructed (article).

    The report on the inspection of Focus News, seen by BIRN, said that the tax inspectors found unlawful salaries being paid “below the average market rate” for the specific profession and therefore recalculated the company’s tax dues assuming that the staff was employed with a salary equal to the average. However, the report on Focus Media Group stated that it found no traces of the company employing unregistered employers and no traces of double bookkeeping. But it concluded that some of the employees had salaries “below the market average for the specific profession”. (Balkan Insight Article)

    After BIRN Albania published the article, the General Directorate of Taxation responded to their request for comment outlining briefly the methodology used (article and response). According to the General Directorate of Taxation, they initiated a plan to combat wage informality in December 2021, based on Order No. 1 dated 5.01.2022 of the Prime Minister which established a special anti-informality unit for income from employment and services. They identified risk sectors by analyzing the highest number of subjects with employees declared with a minimum salary or with a deviation from the average of the sector. From this analysis, the three sectors with the highest risk were identified as the private education institutions sector, the media and communication sector, and the insurance companies.

    The Risk Directorate’s in-depth analysis targeted five subjects in the media and communication sector, but only two media outlets have publicly acknowledged being targeted. The General Directorate of Taxation has not specified which other outlets were targeted.

    The General Directorate of Taxation has responded to the media’s criticism, stating that the Focus Group media attack on the tax authority and General Director began after the Tax Administration repeatedly requested that the Hysenbelliu group fulfill their tax obligations, including paying social and health insurance for their employees. The Tax Administration is obligated to treat all subjects equally before the law, even when they are connected to the media.

    The Network of Safe Journalists calls on the General Directorate of Taxation in Albania to provide greater transparency and accountability in the fines imposed on critical media outlets. We urge the tax authority to clarify the methodology used to identify high-risk sectors and the criteria used to select media outlets for fines and to disclose the names of all media outlets that were fined, along with the amounts of their fines. We also emphasize the importance of ensuring impartiality and non-discrimination against media outlets critical of the government, as well as respecting the rights of journalists to report on issues of public interest without fear of retaliation or reprisal. We encourage the tax authority to engage in constructive dialogue with media organizations and independent observers to address these concerns and work toward a resolution that upholds the principles of fairness, impartiality, and media freedom.