The European Parliament “deplores that the Balkan Investigative Regional Network, an independent and investigative media outlet, has been threatened with a defamation case, following its investigations into the criminal past of a mayoral candidate during the local elections in 2015,”reads the amendment proposed MEPs Marietje Schaake and Ilhan Kyuchyuk, from the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
On the eve of the local elections BIRN Albania published an investigation exposing evidence that three mayor candidates running in the local elections had a criminal background.
Evidence obtained by BIRN showed that two candidates running for the Socialist-led ruling coalition, Artur Bushi and Elvis Rroshi, standing for the posts of mayor of Kruja and Kavaja , had been arrested for drug trafficking.
A candidate for the opposition Democratic Party in the municipality in Kelcyra, Gentian Muhameti, was meanwhile convicted of drug trafficking.
After the publication of the story the mayor of Kavaja Elvis Rroshi issued a statement threatening to sue BIRN for defamation in the amount of €100,000. The threat articulated by Rroshi, which included a three-day ultimatum for BIRN to withdraw the story, was repeated several times by Prime Minister Edi Rama in prime-time interviews.
BIRN Albania stood by its report and the threat of a lawsuit issued by Rroshi never materialized.
In the draft-resolution prepared by the Rapporteur for Albania, Knut Fleckenstein, the European Parliament also expressed concern about the widespread censorship in the local media.
The concerns expressed by the MEPs come on the heels of a land-mark study published by BIRN Albania in October 2015 on the roots and causes of self-censorship among local journalists.
The report not only offers a complete overview of the roots and causes of self-censorship in the Albanian media as well as the forms in which it appears, but also proposes a series of recommendations on the necessary means and mechanisms that should be raised to combat it.