Albania: Leading economic reform (The Economist) or haven for terrorist drug gangs (Sunday People)?

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There has been heated political debate in Albania after The Economist carried eight pages praising the country as a leading economic reformer in the Balkans.

It came as the Sunday People exposed the country as being at the centre for drug-dealing terrorists.

The eight-page Economist Albania advertorial was produced by intermediary Quantum Products and appeared in the European print edition.

While the Albanian government claims it spent £150,000 on the content, the country’s opposition claims it was more than triple that.

The  feature describes Albania as “leading reform in the Balkan region”, includes interviews with various leading members of the Albanian government and claims the country is “rapidly emerging as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Western Balkans”. The headline “One Very Elegant Lady’s Invisible Work” appears above an article about the country’s minister of Urban Development.

The People investigation reveals that group called Albania Islamic State is running a £4bn-a-year marijuana growing and smuggling operation in the country.

The country's former president Sali Berisha has praised the People report and attacked the spending on native advertising in The Economist.

He said in a Facebook posting: “Dear friends, this is a very serious charge made by the  British daily ‘Daily Mirror’ for our country…

"The British daily charges also underline after other charges of a more serious nature such as arms smuggling in the region. It should not be forgotten that the terrorist attacks in Paris used Kalashnikovs trafficked from Albania.”

Opposition MP Grida Duma from the Democratic Party accused PM Edi Rama of “spending Albanian taxpayers’ money in order to purchase eight pages of an advert in one the most expensive magazine in the world".

She said: "According to British advertising rules, every page that praises Edi Rama has ‘Advertisement Feature’ written on it.

“Do you know what an advertisement feature is? For those unclear I will tell you: An advertorial is an advertisement feature, announcement or promotion, the content of which is controlled by the marketer, not the publisher, that is disseminated in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement.

“Thus this is a paid advertisement article, the truthfulness of which is verified not by the magazine, but by the advertiser.”

She added: “this disgraceful use of Albanian money not only doesn’t help Albania and the serious situation of its citizens, but it also doesn’t shed light on the tarnished image of a prime minister who . . .  has forced 100 thousand fellow countrymen to leave the country”.

The government defended the decision to promote the country saying that the information being published in the Economist had been given the magazine’s backing: "The Economist, as one of the most prestigious magazines with a high number of readers worldwide, cannot publish any information which is not genuine or not verified and which is not written by journalists certified by it.”

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