The two shows, ‘The Unexposed Ones’ and ‘Krasta/A Show’, which were both aired by the News 24 channel and were known for criticising Prime Minister Edi Rama, will not be broadcast in the new TV season starting in September, sparking allegations that government pressure was behind their cancellation.

However, Irfan Hysenbelliu, the owner of News 24, a local station based in Tirana, denied he was pressured by the government, while Rama’s office called the allegations “fake news”.

‘The Unexposed Ones’ was a show hosted by Ylli Rakipi, who alleged that the cancellation was result of direct government pressure on the owner.

“The show was closed due to the pressure. There has been always pressure directly by Edi Rama to close down the show,” Rakipi told BIRN.

He said that the administration of the channel didn’t explain why they were cancelling his show.

Rakipi’s show, on which Fatos Lubonja and Andi Bushati, two political commentators well known for criticism of Rama, regularly appeared, last December exposed a major fraud in which a company won a contract for public works using falsified documents, presenting itself as a major US contractor.

Following the report, the government acknowledged that the company was indeed fake while prosecutors started a formal investigation. However, nine months later, no one has been arrested or faced charges.

Since then, Rama had filled two defamation suits against Rakipi, claiming his reputation was damaged by derogatory language used by the TV host in some of his shows.

‘Krasta/A Show’, which was hosted by Adi Krasta, also known for criticising the government, will be cancelled in September. Krasta declined BIRN’s request for a comment.

News 24’s owner Hysenbelliu said his decision to cancel the shows was because he was conducting an “internal reform”.

“Nobody has dared to pressure me, not this government, nor the previous one,” Hysenbelliu said.

“This is the reason why the media that I own enjoy a large audience and high trust in the market,” he added.

He said that the channel planned a similar show to Rakipi’s with another presenter which he described as “well known” in the country, but didn’t give a name.

Hysenbelliu also said that while Krasta’s show will be cancelled, he is still in negotiations with the presenter for a weekend slot on News 24.

Rama’s press office described the allegations of pressure on News 24 to drop the critical shows as a “wave of defamations”, and warned that it could sue over the claims.

“We have for some time now had a legal team that files claims in the court in cases of defamation. To my knowledge, this wave of defamations about which you are asking is being evaluated by the team,” Rama’s spokesperson Endri Fuga said in an emailed response to BIRN’s questions.

News 24 is a small channel with about 7.5 per cent of the free-to-air television market measured by revenue.

The market is dominated by Top Channel and TV Klan, who jointly control 64 per cent of the revenue, and are seen as more sympathetic to the government.

Rama has been criticised for exerting pressure on media in various ways, from using derogatory language against critical journalists to issuing threats of lawsuits and pushing for laws that aim to curb freedom of speech.

In January this year, Rama slammed US Congress-funded Voice of America as “garbage” after an investigation into alleged political hiring in the prison system.

In June, he threatened German newspaper Bild with lawsuits following the publication of a series of intercepted conversations showing the collusion of Rama’s Socialist Party with various criminal gangs for the purpose of election rigging, vote-buying and putting pressure on voters.

More recently, Rama has been criticised by Albanian and international rights organisations for attempting to create a media censorship system through proposed changes in the country’s audio-visual media laws. / BalkanInsight

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