Head of the EU Delegation in Albania, Luigi Soreca has called out Rama’s government on their “anti-defamation” draft media law, saying it does not meet freedom of expression standards.
In a speech given at the EU Investigative Journalism Awards ceremony held in Tirana, he stated that “European and international standards in the area of freedom of expression and media freedom are key for the development of strong and pluralistic media” and that the Albanian authorities should respect that.
“The European Commission had initially asked for these initiatives to be fully aligned with EU’s Audio-visual Media Services and e-Commerce directives. Although the major previous concerns related to the EU acquis appear to have been addressed, full compliance of the draft amendments with freedom of expression standards still needs to be ensured.”
Soreca spoke of the proposed law and its “adverse effect on freedom of expression” and noted that the European Commission shares the concerns of other international organisations regarding the draft law and the competencies of the Audio Visual Authority. Critics have included inter alia the OSCE, ODIHR, Reporters Without Borders, Albanian Media Council, European Centre For Press and Media Freedom, International Press Institute, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
He called on Rama’s administration to pursue the consultation process with the local media community on making further amendments, something that so far has not happened. Soreca recommended allowing journalists to self-regulate, stating that this is the approach the European Commission takes in terms of tackling disinformation and fake news.
During his speech, Soreca also spoke about an EU initiative to support the Albanian public broadcaster RTSH to “prepare the new generation of Albanian reporters”. The recent ODIHR report focussing on the 30 July ‘elections’ cast doubt on the partiality of RTSH, citing the fact they receive government funding and its Chief is ex-editor of the Socialist Party (PS) newspaper and an ex-PS public official.
He also commented on the working conditions of journalists in Albania as well as a “highly concentrated media ownership” that leads to self-censorship. Soreca failed to address the issues surrounding violence, harassment, smear campaigns, judicial and administrative harassment and other forms of violence that are levied against a growing number of Albanian and foreign journalists that are critical of the government.
His thinly veiled praise of the government was not as subtle as perhaps he had intended as he commented that “the EU considers freedom of expression and freedom of the media as benchmarks for democracy, good governance, and political accountability” adding that “aspiring to become a Member State implies that these two pillars are well established”.
Awards were handed out to journalists who have reported for platforms that are funded by foreign organisations including USAID. Again, many independent journalists working for smaller platforms such as Klodiana Lala who exposed the electiongate scandal and won a “Whistleblower Award” for it, were overlooked.
Soreca has repeatedly failed to publicly condemn acts of violence, intimidation and harassment against journalists in Albania.