The Albanian Media Council has described the proposed draft-law on media “worse than the previous one”.
The independent body of local media experts has criticised the proposed “anti-defamation package” on a number of points, noting that it breaks a number of media ethics, local laws, and human rights. They called on the government to “urgently withdraw the draft law” and asked international organisations including the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the European Union to “exert the necessary pressure” on the government not to pass the law, due to its implications for freedom of expression.
The draft-law which was passed by the Council of Ministers of 3 July, will be submitted to parliament soon where it is expected to pass due to the Socialist Party enjoying a majority.
The law, has been widely condemned by media outlets, media freedom organisations, journalists, and members of civil society.
Issues raised by the AMC include the fact that the law has not been offered for any consultation process and has not involved any input from journalists or members of civil society. This, says the AMC is against the law for public consultation. This issue was also raised by a delegation of international media freedom outlets during their visit to Tirana in June.
Secondly, the Council notes that the law breaks the principle of “self-regulation of media ethics” that is prevalent in Europe. By putting the resolution of ethical issues in the hands of an administrative board that is chosen by politicians, it violates the European principle of media freedom.
The opinion adds that the Audiovisual Media Authority who would be in charge of any issues relating to the law, “do not have the proper capacity to operate this duty”. They state that the AMA are already failing to perform their current duties and would not be able to cope with complicated tasks such as “controlling, judging and sanctioning ethical violations”.
They also note that the AMA cannot guarantee the “integrity, independent and the right qualifications” of its board that would be required to conduct such judgments.
Another concern is the fact that an administrative body would be responsible for judging topics relating to freedom of expression, a task that should lay solely in the jurisdiction of the Albanian courts. They also express that the law is technically flawed due to issues such as tight deadlines, high sanctions, and “unconstitutional fixed sanctions”.
Lastly, the AMC state that the law is “politically made on bad faith” and that it will violate rights, and “induce self-censorship among media and journalists”.
Albania already has a serious problem with journalists self-censoring themselves due to fear of economic, physical, or personal reprisals. This was noted by Reporters Without Borders, various international reports, and the aforementioned media freedom delegation.
Whilst the new draft has removed the need for mandatory registration as well as large fines, many have raised concerns that this law will pass and more restrictive by-laws will be passed quietly, to increase the severity of the law.
For example, whilst websites are not required to register as per the draft law, the scope of those that “should” register has been broadly increased to include foreign owned websites, sites not based in Albania, and even travel blogs. As it is unlikely that any of these sites will register voluntarily, it could be that the government plans to introduce bylaws at a later date that would enforce mandatory registration, otherwise the inclusion of such clauses seems to be unnecessary.
An example of this happening is the fact reported by AMC that whilst financial penalties have been reduced in the draft AMA law, changes were quietly made to the Electronic and Postal Communications Authority (AKEP) law, which would result in much higher fines than specified in the previous draft law.
It seems that violation of media freedom by stealth is how the government will seek to implement this law, following the widespread condemnation of their original plans from the international community.