After Albanian parliamentarians voted to protect a fellow members of parliament from being arrested on corruption allegations, Prime Minister Edi Rama took the opportunity to berate journalists for their coverage of recent events.
The investigation of member of parliament Saimir Tahiri, who previously served as the country's interior minister, became public after allegations surfaced on October 16, connecting Tahiri to a drug trafficking gang.
Members of parliament enjoy immunity in Albania, and certain legal actions cannot be taken against them without parliament's authorization. Albania's public prosecutor filed a request with parliament to arrest Tahiri, but on October 25, lawmakers voted against it, thereby protecting Tahiri.
Instead, they authorized the prosecutor to investigate Tahiri, a fact that some international media emphasized in their reporting. A syndicated article by the Associated Press, for example, ran with a headline that claimed “parliament lifts ex-minister’s immunity for probe.” Most local media, in comparison, focused on the parliament’s refusal to allow Tahiri’s arrest.
In a press conference following the parliamentary session, Prime Minister Rama began insulting Albanian journalists, calling them “shameful and ignorant.” “It is your misfortune that you don't read and do not even understand what you read, and don't want to listen what it is all about,” he said, according to Balkan Insight.
The prime minister refused to answer the journalists’ questions and instead accused them of spreading fake news and suggested that they learn about their role as journalists, rather than spreading gossip in the media channels. Though Rama has continuously labeled the media as a ‘cauldron’ in the past, he was notably more aggressive than before.
The parliament's vote to protect Tahiri and the prime minister's subsequent railing at journalists flooded the Albanian media space to such a degree that reports about the death of 30-year-old miner in Bulqiza were almost completely neglected.
Journalist Artur Nura commented on Twitter, linking his tweet to an article containing video footage of the Prime Minister Rama's rant:
Edi Rama humb kontrollin, në mënyrë pa precedent sulmon dhe ofendon gazetarët (video) https://t.co/NSF0Ty9bqA
— Artur Nura (@ArturNura1) October 25, 2017
Rama loses control at a new level, attacking and insulting journalists (video).
The Albanian Journalists’ Union (AJU) issued a public statement criticizing Rama's attitude as “arrogant and insulting, not dignified for a high political and governmental representative.”
Unioni i Gazetareve Shqiptare denoncon kete gjuhe dhe kete komunikim etiketues te Kryeministrit dhe apelon per nje qendrim refuzues te te gjithe anetareve te organizates sone dhe komunitetit profesional ne pergjithesi.
UGSH me indinjate deklarohet se kjo sjellje dhe ky komunikim fyes i kryeministrit kane nje lidhje dhe mbartin edhe pergjegjesine e madhe per gjendjen kritike ne te cilen gjenden gazetaret e sotem ne vend. Ne vleresojme se eshte pergjegjesia e Tij dhe e institucioneve te tjera ligjore qe gjate kesaj kohe informaliteti dhe shembja e vlerave profesionale po shnderrohen ne plage te medha, çdo dite e me teper ne jeten mediatike te vendit.
The Albanian Journalists’ Union denounces the offensive language and the labeling vocabulary used by the prime minister, and appeals to all members of our organization and the professional community, in general, to join us in the refusal of such an attitude.
The AJU notes, with indignation, that such behavior and insulting communication is directly related to the dire situation faced by journalism in Albania. We believe that the prime mininster and the other legal institutions bear responsibility for the state of media in the country, including the precarious situation in which many journalists are forced to work without contracts, as well as the collapse of professional values affecting increasing number of media outlets on daily basis.
The union ended their statement calling on journalists to boycott the activity of the prime minister's office on Friday, October 27.
Even though the majority of journalists are limited in their ability to choose topics, due to pressure from media owners, lack of contracts and job insecurity, many still reported on the issue. Albanians were shocked by both the parliament's refusal to allow Tahiri's arrest and by the unprecedented attack on the media by the prime minister.