Rights Groups Criticise Albanian PM’s Push to ‘Discipline’ Media

December 26, 2018
Four international media freedom organisations sent an open letter to Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, demanding that he withdraw law proposals they believe will 'chillingly' affect online media.
 Albania Prime Minister Edi Rama. Photo: EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER

The European Federation of Journalists, European Centre for Press & Media Freedom, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders criticised on Wednesday new restrictive laws on online media in Albania.

The laws were proposed by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama as part of his drive against “defamation”.

In a joint letter sent to Rama, the groups claim that the PM’s initiative is “against best practices and goes against the recommendations of the OSCE, which raises our deepest concern.”

It adds that if parliament passes the current draft laws, “they will seriously impair free flow of information and will have chilling effect in online media and restrict the Albanian citizens’ right to access information.”

In early December, the Albanian Government proposed changes in two laws foreseeing the registration of online media and the policing of news content for a variety of reasons, including “biased” news, news that “damages public morale” and “publications that can incite penal offences”.

Failure to uphold the law would result in fines of up to 1 million leks [8,000 euros] and even closure of websites.

After the changes were presented at a public hearing on Monday in Tirana, media experts and organisations expressed concerns over possible violations of the constitution, the risk of censorship and a possible chilling effect on the freedom of expression online.

In Wednesday’s letter, the groups also called on Rama “to immediately drop the initiative to amend the two draft laws in question and to involve journalists, civil society organisations, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the European Union and Council of Europe in any initiative concerning the right to freedom of expression of media and journalists.”

Rama has repeatedly complained that the government is a victim of “defamation” and has attacked critical media using a variety of epithets, calling some of them charlatans, garbage bins, poison or public enemies.

In October, he declared that he was preparing an “anti-defamation package” that would include “heavy fines”.

However, right organisations see the proposals as a tool that can be misused against free media.

The first draft law aims to change the law on the Telecommunication and Postal Authority, the authority that supervises the communications market, transforming the institution from its current content-neutral status to being responsible for maintaining a “register of online media” and ensuring that “entrepreneurs respect their obligations toward national security, public safety … and other laws”.

The law obliges the website of any physical or legal entity to have contact information and a physical address published on the site and orders the AKEP to close websites based on “Tax Authorities’ request”.

The other proposal aims to transform the Albanian Audiovisual Media Authority, AMA, into a policing body, empowered to judge news quality and public morale. Under the proposal, the publishers should have to “respect the ethical and moral rules of the public and should not allow publication … that can incite penal offences”.

A body named the Complaints Council should receive complaints and fine media or order their closure if found in breach of the law.

The proposal also states that fines and closure orders should be implemented immediately, regardless of whether the website chooses to send the matter before the courts.

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