April 14. 2024. 7:44

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Tirana mayor called out for endangering safety of media owners

Erion Veliaj, the mayor of Albania’s capital Tirana has been criticised by international media organisations for revealing the alleged identities of those behind two popular media platforms, weeks before he is set to face the public vote in local elections.

Veliaj has been mayor of Tirana for two terms and is running for a third as a member of the ruling Socialist Party.

Two sites, Lolita, which published satirical posts, articles and memes often criticising and poking fun at the government, and Jeta Osh Qef, a viral news site comparable to a tabloid, have operated for many years on an anonymous basis.

But last week, Veliaj made a statement about the individuals behind the portals, naming and posting pictures online. He also accused them of blackmailing urban bus companies and said the municipality is preparing to report them to the police.

But the statement did not go down well with international media organisations.

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom reacted, stating “Veliaj should apologise immediately and make sure private individuals’ identities are properly protected.”

Riccardo Gutierrez, secretary general of the European Federation of Journalists said, “I am very angry with the behaviour of the mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, in publishing the identity of the administrators of the satirical Facebook pages in Albania, Lolita and JOQ. These sites, while not strictly journalistic, help hold those in power accountable through humour (whether you like it or not).”

He added that publishing the names and private information of the individuals has put them “directly in physical danger”, reminding him that just days before, a man was killed after gunmen opened fire at Top Channel, the country’s most-watched TV station.

According to Gutièrrez, “this is a serious violation of freedom of expression and the right to remain anonymous. I hope that Prime Minister Edi Rama will make sure that this dangerous behaviour is stopped immediately. Public officials are expected to protect democracy and freedom of expression. Not to threaten and intimidate critical voices,” he added.

Mapping Media Freedom said that “media experts in Albania admit that both platforms are of public interest because they are anonymous and critical of the government and the mayor of Tirana.”

They said the mayor did not provide evidence of his claims of blackmail, adding that “some media observers in Albania raised serious questions about these claims. Experts said that while these two influential blogs do not always follow ethical standards in their content, they both serve a role in the public interest by holding people in power accountable.”

The media freedom platform, which is supported by the Council of Europe, also noted how Veliaj’s comments were published by pro-government media and these publications were followed by numerous verbal attacks and threats against two individuals from members of the public.

“This causes concern for their physical safety. Critics raised concerns in particular that the mayor mentioned the wife and two children, which may have put them at risk,” the organisation concludes.

(Alice Taylor | Exit.al)