Ten Albanian media freedom and human rights organisations have called on the Albanian government to withdraw its proposed media bills.
Calling them a “censorship package” the organisations said that the draft laws could “contribute to further setbacks on media freedom and freedom of expression in Albania.” They noted that the recent delegation of international media freedom organisations that visited Tirana in June, had observed that the situation was “deteriorating”.
The statement was released by The Albanian Center for Quality Journalism, MediaLook, the Albanian Institute of Science, the Association of Professional Journalists of Albania, BIRN Albania, Civil Rights Defenders, Res Publica, and the Union of Albanian Journalists.
Prime Minister Edi Rama and his ruling Socialist Party are attempting to enact a new law that he claims will “discipline” online media portals. The proposed law will give a government-controlled council the power to impose fines, remove content, make public apologies, or insert pop-up notices if they are deemed to have violated provisions on citizens dignity and privacy.
The Council will have the power to fine platforms up to €8,250 for violating their rules, but a second authority, the Telecommunications and Postal Authority, also under the control of the government, will have the ability to impose fines of up to €825,000 for violations.
The coalition of organisations argue that current laws on defamation and libel are more than sufficient, without the need for additional legislation.
These draft laws, in an unprecedented way in democratic countries, seek to impose a regime of administrative control on the online media.
Whilst the new draft has removed the requirement for mandatory registration, it does make reference to portals registering on a voluntary basis. The scope of this includes any website that writes about Albania, whether they are based in the country or not. There are concerns that the government may seek to pass certain by-laws that would make this registration mandatory, therefore further increasing the crackdown on media freedom and freedom of expression.
The organisations stated that “these drafts laws risk the increase of censorship and self-censorship in the local media”. They asked parliament to reject the proposed laws and for the government to withdraw them completely.