On Friday, a number of local organisations called on Prime Minister Edi Rama to withdraw the two proposed bills that would see the government control every online media source in the country.
The organisations, dedicated to human rights, journalistic freedom, and freedom of information included BIRN Albania, the Association of Professional Journalists of Albania, the League of Albanian Journalists, AIS/Open Data Albania, Civil Rights Defenders, MediaLook Centre, and the Albania Media Council.
At a press conference held on Friday, the organisations stated:
“We inform the public that the two proposals endanger freedom of expression and could turn Albania in a undemocratic country and at the same time are not helpful in tackling the existing problems of the media, including hate speech, defamation, propaganda or disinformation.”
The two draft laws will create a public registry of online media outlets and blogs and will give unprecedented power to a newly formed Complaints Council. This body will have the power to sanction online media based on third-party requests, without the need to go through a court procedure. Penalties include blocking access to the sites and immediate closure. With no clear procedures outlined, the instant closure of online portals based on the vague assumption that they “offend public morals” or push “fake news”.
Civil rights groups and journalists state that government’s initiative poses a serious threat to the already under-siege media in Albania and increases levels of censorship that are already at unacceptably high levels. Many believe that if the Socialist Party manages to enact these laws, it will bring the country one step closer to an authoritarian regime.
“In democratic countries, the aim of the law is to protect citizens from the government and not to protect government from the citizens,” the organisations noted.
At the present time, Albania is considered to be a ‘hybrid regime’– somewhere between an authoritarian regime and a democracy, and its media is considered to be only “partly free’ by Freedom House. In addition to this, Reporters Sans Frontiers has noted that the media in the country is severely restricted and Edi Rama is prone to vicious verbal attacks on independent media sources or those that speak out against him.