Reporters Without Borders today protested against a ban slapped by the leadership of the opposition Socialist Party preventing public radio and television (RTSH) from covering a hunger strike by some of its deputies against alleged vote fraud on Deshmoret e Kombit boulevard.
A team from RTSH went to the scene of the hunger strike on 4 May but were ordered to leave the spot for “their own safety”, by party spokesman Armela Imeraj. When the journalists refused to leave and continued to work, party bodyguards intervened and bundled them away.Protests made by RTSH director Artur Kopani to the president of the socialist party Edi Rama went unheeded.
“The attitude of the Socialist Party is both surprising and unacceptable. The action to raise awareness that it launched a few days ago is taking place in the street, in other words in a public place. Nothing can justify such restrictions on media coverage of an event like this, for both public and privately run media”, Reporters Without Borders said.
Questioned by Reporters Without Borders on the phone, the party spokesman, Armela Ymeraj, justified the stance for safety reasons. “The Socialist Party cannot guarantee the safety of journalists and today declines all responsibility for any untoward incidents that could affect the RTSH team. Some of those present have serious resentment towards the public channel and it is impossible for us to protect ourselves against any incidents.”
“Even if we appreciate the interest in the safety of journalists expressed by those in charge of this demonstration, this consideration cannot be used as an excuse for refusing to open this public event to a particular channel. The safety of journalists on the public highway as anywhere else is not the responsibility of the socialist party but of the police. If a group of militants, or anyone else not linked to the party attacked a TV crew or a journalist, it would be for the police and the courts to intervene and to take proceedings against those responsible for the abuses”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“If, as the organisers say, this is a peaceful protest action, there is no reason for militants to attack the media, even if they do not like them. If the independence of RTSH can legitimately be questioned, that does not in any way justify preventing them for working freely on the streets of the capital. One cannot quite rightly condemn abuse of authority by the Albanian government in the public media or towards the private media and use the same methods of censorship”, the organisation said.
“We call on the organisers of this demonstration to publicly undertake to guarantee free access to all media. Police who are responsible for covering the event should be able to provide sufficient protection to the press if it turns out to be necessary”, it concluded.