I have been called many things over the course of my 32 years on this planet, but despite being tall, blonde, and angry-looking, ‘Russian spy’ wasn’t one of them. Until yesterday.
I have been writing about corruption for a number of years now—both in an investigative capacity and just passing my opinions. During this time, I have remained undeterred by threats, hateful comments, and harassment, I have continued regardless and will continue to do so, with my journalistic integrity intact. The media storm that has erupted around little old me, over the last few hours, is nothing short of bizarre, and I would like to take a few hundred words just to set the record straight.
I have been in Albania for almost 18 months now—since the moment I arrived I have been writing almost every day on the history, culture, places, people, and things I love about living here. My website has amassed almost 200,000 visitors and my work has been republished far and wide, both locally and abroad. During this time however, I have also started to write about the things that I do not like about living here—the corruption that presents itself at every turn and the injustices that I see befalling the people around me.
Over the course of my 18 months here in Albania, I have been accused of being paid by the Socialist government, by the Greek government, and now, laughably, the Russians. Yes, I gave a comment to RT television, but I said nothing that is not already available to be read in well-respected publications the world over. I said nothing new, nothing ground breaking, and, most importantly, nothing untrue.
I am an English woman with no connections to Russia, I am not paid by the Russians, and I am not in any way connected to or paid by any Russian media outlets. In fact, Tsarizm, who I have been accused of working for, is an American publication set up by a former US Air Force pilot, takes an anti-Putin stance, and has no connection to Russia whatsoever—oh, and I do not work for them! If my work has appeared there it is because it was republished there, in much the same way as other portals in Albania do so with my work all the time.
Furthermore, my partner is not, was not, and never will be the bodyguard of Lulzim Basha and anything to the contrary is nothing short of an illegal fantasy dreamt up by government propagandists.
Libel, slander, defamation are illegal here and abroad, and they are matters that are taken very seriously within the European Union. Furthermore, the right of journalists and the press to carry out their job free from harassment, illegal infringements, and attempts to silence them is a right that forms one of the core foundations of Western democracy, as well as being a fundamental human right.
The lies that have been propagated about me over the last few hours are really quite shocking for a country and a government that so desperately wants to be considered as European. I could be fooled into thinking we are in Turkey or Azerbaijan where this sort of nonsense is par for the course by state-sponsored media platforms. But no, we are in Albania, a country that is trying to sell its soul to join the EU, but yet systematically shows it is unable to commit to or even comprehend the most basic of Western principles.
Attempting to silence a journalist through targeted campaigns of misinformation is the depths of unprofessionalism and un-democratic behaviour. Fortunately for me, I am neither intimidated or dissuaded from continuing my work but it bothers me that other journalists who are targeted in this way, might be, or might be put off from pursuing a story for fear of being treated like this.
For me, these reports are nothing but a source of bemusement because what these propagandists don’t realise is that by clumsily crafting absurd lies to try and discredit me, to anyone with a brain they just reinforce the fact that my comments and articles are right.
Making up lies to try to discredit journalists is a common tactic employed by autocratic governments the world over—they panic when a story comes out that paints them with the ugly truth so they set about trying to delegitimise the person writing the story because they know that they cannot win by trying to disprove the points made. The point is, if you attack the messenger and not the message, you are essentially stating that you have no comeback for the message and instead will resort to dirty and unprofessional tactics to try and undermine the journalist. To me and many others, this is nothing short of an admission of guilt on the part of the government and it is a testament to the pits that journalists in Albania will go to just to secure a pay-check.
Can you imagine this happening in the UK? Or Germany? Or France? Quite simply, this is not something that happens in a civilised, fully functioning democracy. This is an infringement on my right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to a private life, and the freedom of my right to exercise my functions as a journalist—rights that are protected by an endless list of international laws and conventions, recognised the world over.
For now, the comments that have been made don’t really bother me and as I mentioned above, have actually proven my point rather than discredited me. But I reserve the right to take legal action against anyone writing or reposting statements about me or my family that are not true. I will do this for several reasons; firstly, because I know they are baseless lies and that I would win instantly in a court of law; secondly, because I would enjoy the satisfaction; and lastly and most importantly, because journalists in Albania need to be able to work free from the fear of targeted smear and harassment campaigns levied against them for doing their job.
The source of all of these lies is Lexo.al, closely followed by Gazeta Tema and CNA.al, platforms that are not known for their skilful reporting or adherence to facts. In fact, they have been caught out for similar lies before, when they accused Gunther Krichbaum—Head of Bundestag’s Committee on EU Affairs—of being a Russian spy. The German’s responded by calling out Rama on feeding this lie to state sponsored propaganda platforms, and cancelled a prior engagement with the Prime Minister, based on his refusal to acknowledge the lies. The same media sources that are attacking me with lies, used the same line on a noted European politician—couldn’t they have at least come up with a new spin?
I am sorry to disappoint you all but I am not connected to Russia, I am not an agent put here to disrupt the EU accession, my partner is not Basha’s bodyguard, and honestly, my life is really not that interesting. What I am however is a journalist—one who is not put off by the unprofessional behaviour of a bunch of hacks, and I will continue to go about my life and my job regardless of what is said or done. To all of the “journalists” who have perverted their profession and sold their soul for a click-bait headline, you bring shame to yourselves, your profession, and your country. To those who ordered the attacks, thank you for proving me right.
Oh! and if you are going to write about me, at least make some attempt at getting your facts right—starting with the correct way to spell my name.