A group of the world’s leading media freedom organisations have publicly called on Prime Minister Edi Rama to ask the European Commission and the Council of Europe to help his government create an “anti-defamation law” that is“in line with best practice press freedom standards”.
In a statement published this afternoon, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists, International Press Institute, and Reporters Without Borders called for the government to “drop their dogged pursuance of these draft laws and restart the process”.
The organisations note that the “proposals are not in line with best practices on self-regulation and would have an adverse impact on freedom of expression in Albania”. This, they added comes at a time when the country is due to take the Presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in January 2020 and that the adoption of these laws would be “problematic” at this time.
Noting that measures could be taken against foreign and local media “all without a court order”, they said that the proposed state regulation of online media is contrary to international best practices regarding self-regulation
Speaking of “widespread concern over the persistence of the government and parliament to pursue the draft laws”, the organisations said that the introduction of such laws will “signal a turn to the worst for Albania’s press freedom climate”.
Representatives from the organisations visited Tirana in June of this year to conduct an advocacy mission. At the time, they warned of the “deteriorating press freedom climate” and called on the government to adhere to international standards. A month later, they called on the government to withdraw the bills completely but the government has ignored both requests.
They remind the authorities that Albania has clear obligations and duties under the European Convention on Human Rights and the OSCE that it must adhere to.
Today, the OSCE Representative on Media Freedom published yet another legal review of the latest draft law and made it clear that it still requires further improvements.
Many recommendations have been ignored and while some have been adopted, the vague language used in the draft can leave it wide open for significant abuse. One such concerning factor is the including of “political belief” as a form of hate speech- something that could infringe the right of individuals to levy justified criticisms against the government.
Other issues including high fines and supervisory bodies being granted similar powers to a court, yet having no experience in either judicial or freedom of expression matters were highlighted.
Last week, Prime Minister Edi Rama announced that he would be passing the bill on 19 December, including new, harsher provisions that would impart bigger penalties on online media platforms.