This is a story about one of the most challenging journalistic beats in Albania - the intersection of politics and organised crime.

In January 2019, a story broke that sent the country into political chaos. A series of leaked wiretaps - published by news outlets BIRN Albania, Voice of America, and later German newspaper BILD - revealed that senior government officials and members of organised crime groups had colluded to rig the 2016 and 2017 local and national elections.

The cosy relationship between politicians and leaders of criminal groups is not exactly news to Albanians. Yet, evidence of corruption and the links between politics and organised crime are hard to come by, not least because most media outlets in the country are reluctant to touch these stories.

"One of the issues here in terms of media freedom is there is a climate of self-censorship among journalists. They get a job with a mainstream television station or a newspaper and they know that their boss is linked to the government or owns a construction company that wants government permits or something like this. So they know that they have to tread carefully and follow a particular editorial line or stay away from certain stories because they know that their job could be gone like that," explains Alice Taylor, a Tirana-based journalist.

The handful of journalists who do continue to pursue crime and corruption leads, know it has become a dangerous journalistic endeavour. With lots of powerful toes to step on - senior politicians, criminals, or both - they have learned the hard way that their reporting can have serious consequences.

In August 2018, the family home of journalist Klodiana Lala - who has been investigating and denouncing the power of organised crime groups for more than a decade - was sprayed with automatic gunfire. No one got hurt, but a clear message was sent that night - to scare her into silence.

"While the authorities try to argue that this shooting was the result of some sort of family feud, I am convinced that there is no other reason for my family to be targeted than my reporting. But the attack has had no effect at all professionally. I covered difficult subjects before and I will carry on doing this in the coming years," Lala told The Listening Post.

Nearly a year after the attack, nobody has been held accountable for the shooting, and many, including Besar Likmeta, editor of Birn Albania, believe this is by design.

"We know very little about the people who committed those attacks. Because, unfortunately there hasn't been a proper prosecution as the prime minister promised at the time," Likmeta said. "I think the political will from the political elite is missing. They're not supporting brave prosecutors and law enforcement officers to find who's responsible for this kind of act because this can also lead to them."

It is not just physical attacks. Threats, online harassment and government-orchestrated smear campaigns have proven effective tools to push even more journalists towards self-censorship - leaving the media exactly where the administration of Prime Minister Edi Rama wants it: cowed and at the mercy of the state.

The Listening Post's Johanna Hoes reports from Tirana on politics, crime, journalism and the few reporters who are still covering a story that the Albanian powers that be are trying to kill.

Contributors:

Klodiana Lala - reporter, News 24

Besar Likmeta - editor, BIRN Albania

Alice Taylor - reporter, Exit.Al

Flutura Kusari - media lawyer

Source: Al Jazeera