Sami Nezaj, a member of the AMA who has been given de facto power to regulate online media in Albania, has spoken out with harsh criticisms of the law and responsibilities that have been imposed upon the body.
“The law is not acceptable for a democratic society…there is no established practice like this in EU countries,” he said, speaking at the annual ‘Freedom Without Hate’ conference organised by the Council of Europe and the Albanian Ombudsman.
Noting how the AMA had rejected the law but following parliament’s approval, they would be made to implement it, he assured journalists that they would do so with “as little detriment as possible.”
He then went on to explain how the law wouldn’t solve any of the issues with the media in the country, there is no need for it, and that it was developed for the good of the government, not the good of citizens.
Nezaj said that the media climate in Albania is subject to “a spirit of fear” that protects the government from critical media. He also explained that there are only around 30 online news portals in the country, a far cry from the figure of around 800 that was used to partly justify the new laws.
Another topic discussed by the panel was that of pro-government trolls and bots that prevent critical voices from being spread and limit access to information by members of the public.
Koloreto Cukali, the head of the Albanian Media Council noted that there are teams of government workers whose sole responsibility on a full-time basis is to “denigrate the accounts of critical voices”. He explained how AMC’s Facebook page was ambushed by an army of people swearing” and acting in a coordinated manner.
He also addressed the fact that Prime Minister Edi Rama and Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj do not do press conferences because they do not want to answer questions from the press. As well as this issue, the agenda of both politicians are not made public so that the media cannot follow them. Instead, the media has to resort to the Prime Minister’s own channel “ERTV”.
“We live in times of unprecedented propaganda,” Cukali said, adding that the way media are forced to get their news from one source- ERTV is like it was in the time of Communism.
Socialist Party MP and Member of the Legal Commission Klotilda Bushka then spoke, claiming that the law was “like the Croatian model”. This was quickly rebuffed by moderator and Director of Media Look Elvin Luku who stated that actually, they were not similar at all.
Bushka then claimed that they “didn’t have much input from the media” and that “no organisations from the media community gave suggestions.”
When asked what percentage of suggestions from objectors were taken onboard by the government, Bushka was unable to answer. Instead, she claimed that as someone with legal experience, journalistic experience, and as an “activist” she understood the law was actually in support of citizens and is a positive thing.
Exit journalist Alice Taylor posed two questions to Bushka, firstly how the government could claim it is in line with international standards when the OSCE, CoE, UN, EU, EC, and international media freedom organisations have said it is not, and whilst defamation remains a criminal offence which is in itself against international recommendations.
She also asked what would be done to stem the flow of propaganda, fake news, lies, and misrepresented facts from the government, and whether they would be subjected to the law as well.
No clear answer was forthcoming and Bushka instead repeated that “it’s up to journalists to make proposals”.