Three weeks ago the government announced two draft laws with potential damaging effects on press freedom in Albania.
The new drafts concern changes in the laws regulating electronic communication and audio-visual media in the country, as part of Prime Minister Rama’s “Anti-Slander Legislative Package”.
Following several national and international organizations’ condemnations and calls on the government to stop the legislative initiative, the Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Albana Vokshi sent a letter to the main institutions worldwide dealing with protection of press freedom.
MP Vokshi wrote to over 30 institutions and embassies to inform them about the potential dangers awaiting the Albanian media if the draft laws passed the parliamentary vote. Vokshi pointed out the main restrictions the proposed draft laws would bring to media freedom, as well as other procedural issues. Here are the main ones only:
– No consultations were conducted with stakeholders before the drafting;
– The drafts state that media publications should be “true”, “unbiased” and “objective”;
– Media outlets should comply with ethics and public morale, and refrain from “publications that can incite penal offenses”;
– All online media are required to register with state authorities and pay fees;
– All websites deemed to fall under the scope of these laws will have to display contact information and a physical address;
– Fines for not complying with the law can go very high, as well as the closure of websites;
– State authorities will keep a register of online media and ensure that “entrepreneurs respect their obligations towards national security, public safety, and other laws”;
– The newly established “Complaints Council” will be in charge of fining and ordering closures – both with immediate effect;
– Media outlets should take action within 24 hours whenever a complaint concerning an article is filed;
– Failure to do so will lead to Complaints Council’s decision with 72 hours – which could be fines or website closure;
– “When deemed necessary”, the Complaints Council can inform the media outlet and ask for arguments on its defense;
– The proposed laws extend the definition of online media to include personal blogs and potentially other kinds of websites
The initiative allegedly stems from Prime Minister Edi Rama personally. In the public hearings since the announcements of drafts, representatives of government were not able to answer the question whether they had conducted any study before deciding on the necessity of changes and benefits for society at large.
As one of the defenders of these draft laws Gentian Sala [Chairman of Audiovisual Media Authority] put it: the government is aiming at “disciplining” media freedom. The legislative initiative has been harshly criticized by many, including the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), European Centre for Press & Media Freedom (ECPMF), PEN International (ECPMF), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Albanian Media Council, OSCE. The draft laws are considered a threat to democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression.