Ignoring the criticisms and requests of the OSCE, EU, Council of Europe, the Albanian Media Council, NGOs, academics, journalists, and members of civil society, the Albanian government resubmitted an almost identical version of the prior draft law to Parliament.
The new draft still gives power to the Audiovisual Media Authority, which retains the right to act as a quasi-court and make legal decisions over alleged violations committed by online media. They also continue to have the power to suspend the activities of the portal, impose large fines on them, or even shut them down completely.
According to art.132/5 of the draft-law,
[T]he AMA, after hearing the provider of the electronic publications service and, if possible, the author of the published content, assesses the infringement committed in relation to the infringement of freedom of expression in accordance with the principle of proportionality. AMA, in cooperation with AKEP, decides to block access to the Internet in cases where electronic media services are suspected of inciting one of the following offences: child pornography; encouraging terrorist acts; violations of national security.
Many who oppose the bill have voiced concern that the scope of the bill may be misused to silence portals and journalists that are critical of the government. For example, the wording that states “are suspected of inciting” and the definitions of the offences “encouraging terrorist acts” and “violations of national security” are and could be interpreted in ways that could silence anyone opposing the government.
In addition to this, the AMA will be responsible for assessing the violations that are allegedly committed by the media as criminal offences. Fines also remain at around the same figure as in the previous draft, posing as a threat of financial ruin to many small independent media.
The majority of the AMA body is appointed by the majority, and it is therefore under government influence, the head of which, Prime Minister Edi Rama, has a record of calling media “trashcans” and “enemies.”
More recently, two critical journalists lost their jobs and had their shows cancelled this summer after Rama objected to the content of their productions.
While registration with the government is not mandatory at present, media will be given the right to appeal the AMA decision in court, though this does not suspend the decision.
As well as risking having their site blocked in Albania, media platforms could be forced to publish a correction in the form of a ‘pop up’ to their website, could be made to pay a large fine totalling as much as €830,000, losing their license to operate, or having their license suspended.
Just last week, the EU Ambassador Luigi Soreca, and the Ambassador of the OSCE to Albania Bernd Borchardt called on the government to take on board the suggestions of the organisations as well as to engage with journalists, NGOs and “all interested parties.”
Instead, the government has proceeded with a draft that is expected to have a “chilling effect on media freedom,” providing evidence of further backsliding in the field of human rights.