February 26. 2024. 6:40

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Albania shocked by AK47 attack at leading TV station

A security guard was shot and killed at the premises of Albania’s most watched TV station, Top Channel, in the early hours of Monday morning, in what has been dubbed a terrorist attack and the most severe attack on media freedom in decades.

Pal Kola, a 60-year-old guard, was shot dead after unidentified gunmen opened fire on the TV station’s premises in the capital of Tirana. A burned-out car was later found at another location, reportedly belonging to the suspects and containing two AK-47s.

Top Channel released a statement, calling it a “terrorist attack”.

“Top Channel expresses the clarity that this unprecedented terrorist act was carried out to damage and attack the mission of free media and the power of free speech….Terrorist attacks of this type clearly show how important free speech is and how disturbing it is to undermine democracy.”`

The statement continues, “Top Channel, its shareholders and family members, managers, journalists and authors, have not and have never been the target of any individual attack since its establishment, everything in this terrorist act is related and has only to do with Top Channel’s mission.”

There is currently no publicly available information on the motives of the gunmen or the reason for the attack.

The International Press Institute condemned the attack and expressed its condolences to the family of Kola. They also called for swift intervention by the Albanian authorities.

“IPI welcomes the swift response by leaders from across the political spectrum to denounce the shooting and now urge law enforcement and judicial authorities to establish the circumstances of his death and ensure all steps are taken to bring those responsible to justice.”

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom also commented on the murder and called on Albanian authorities “to conduct independent and professional investigations.”

Statements were quickly forthcoming from political leaders.

Prime Minister Edi Rama tweeted, “The criminal aggression against Top Channel, resulting in the loss of life of security personnel, requires a clear response from law enforcement agencies. Condolences to the family and the entire Top Channel community, which deserves solidarity in this disturbing moment.”

Interior Minister Bledi Çuçi said: “I condemn the criminal attack on the building of the national television @topchanneltv. The State Police is fully committed to uncovering this serious event and bringing the perpetrators to justice…”

President Bajram Begaj asked law enforcement to “clarify this criminal event as soon as possible and with the highest responsibility.

Top Channel was founded in 2001 and consists of radio, tv, and online media, as well as having cinemas, a telecoms company, and even a coffee brand. It is broadcast around Europe and in North America, serving the extensive Albanian diaspora.

The Association of Professional Journalists Albania condemned the attack and extended solidarity to Top Channel journalists and condolences to Kola’s family.

The Albanian Media Council also condemned the incident saying, “this unprecedented attack shows the difficult position of the media in Albania, where their safety is not guaranteed and where crime has the courage to attack one of the biggest media in the country.”

“The attack on TCH is not an attack against only one media, but against all media, even against the public that follows that media,” the council added.

While being the most-watched station in the country, Top Channel has not been immune to criticism over the years. In 2022, Rama accused the station- usually considered favourable to the ruling party- of blackmailing the government with negative coverage. He claimed the company demanded money for favourable reporting and, when it was not received, aired negative coverage instead.

Top Channel has also been accused of blackmail and censorship by former employees, as well as spreading disinformation, something management denies. On the other hand, it has partnered with the UNDP, UNICEF, the ION, USAID, the OSCE, and Reuters.

(Alice Taylor | Exit.al)