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Court fines Top Channel TV for airing alleged sexual harassment scandal tape

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 23 June 2010 - The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East and Central Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is alarmed by a Tirana District Court verdict in favour of a claim filed by former Albanian Minister of Culture Ylli Pango.

According to information received by SEEMO, on 18 June 2010 the Tirana District Court ruled in favour of a claim by the former Albanian Minister of Culture, Ylli Pango, and found Top Channel TV liable for damages because a video and audio recording had been obtained illegally. The broadcaster was ordered to pay a fine of EUR 400,000.

In March 2009, Top Channel TV aired recordings made during the investigative program Fisk Fare showing Pango having private meetings with female job applicants. One of the meetings was held at his private villa in Tirana, Albania. During the meeting the recording appears to show a woman being repeatedly asked to take her clothes off. The airing of the recordings instantly triggered a chain of reactions throughout Albania.

Half an hour after the broadcasting, a statement was issued by Prime Minister Sali Berisha which led to Pango's dismissal; Pango in turn sued the broadcaster.

"SEEMO strongly condemns the court verdict, as Top Channel TV has to pay an exorbitant fine," said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic. "This was a matter of public interest and we urge that the court verdict be annulled. Top Channel TV should not have been charged in the first place. The media functions as an important pillar of democratic society by performing its work in the interest of the public."

Vujovic added: "Investigative reporting permits members of the public to access a wide range of information, in turn allowing the necessary public debate of issues that affect them. SEEMO supports Top Channel TV's decision to appeal in court."

SEEMO would like to emphasize that, when journalists are limited to publishing only those articles approved for publication by the government or international institutions they essentially function as spokespersons for those entities - a role at complete odds with their goal of providing information that is in the public interest.

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