The government and Socialist Party majority in Parliament claim that the reason they want to implement two media laws is to protect citizens if they are violated by the media through defamation.
It is not clear why citizens need additional protection from the media when comprehensive criminal and civil anti-defamation laws are already in existence. Journalists and civil society fear that these new so-called “anti-defamation” laws are just a cover to protect politicians from the critical eye and the accountability of the media.
Firstly, we must consider that the number of citizens affected by the media, and the number of complaints and lawsuits against online news portals has never been an issue. There has never been any significant number of such instances that would require legislative intervention.
Secondly, as mentioned above, the current legal framework provides more than adequate protection against the violation of citizens’ privacy, in accordance with EU standards.
Defamation and ‘unfair interference with privacy’ are criminal offenses, a very tight standard that does not exist in many countries. The Criminal Code applies two articles to these offenses, Articles 120 and 121 which provides for sentences of up to two years imprisonment.
In fact, the criminalization of defamation is criticized by many international media freedom organizations, so if anything, Albania should be working towards reducing the amount of laws governing the media, not increasing them.
Furthermore, as is the case in most Western democracies, self-regulation is the preferred method of journalists adhering to proper ethical conduct.
The Civil Code provides for non-pecuniary damages in cases when: “[…] honor, personality or reputation has been violated … or respect for privacy has been violated.”
Therefore citizens can report to the prosecution or sue any journalist or media outlet for defamation or violation of their privacy.
In fact, the proposed draft laws offer no additional protection and only complicate the legal path for the citizen. Thus according to section 51/1 of the law, the citizen must first file a complaint with the media, if the platform does not respond or refuses to respond within 3 days of the request, the citizen must turn to the AMA Complaints Board. Once the Council has made a decision, this decision can be appealed to the court.
If the Socialist majority considers the current criminal and civil determinations to be inadequate, the appropriate solution is to intervene in this legislation but not to create a special law and additional red tape.
Another reason Socialists offered to support their proposals is their claim that courts have often failed to force online media to remove articles or parts of articles that the court has ruled to infringe on the citizen. In fact this is also wrong as online media can be fined if they decide not to enforce the decision and not remove the articles.
Enforcement of court rulings is in fact a wider problem than the media case, but this is an issue of enforcement and is not resolved by increasing the number of laws.
The bills appear to be aimed at punishing the media rather than protecting citizens.
Despite widespread public opposition, the media and their associations, and the international organizations, the Socialist majority seems determined to adopt the laws today, on 18 December.