Dutch MPs: Controversial ‘Anti-defamation’ Law Must Be Amended Before EU Accession Talks Start

Members of Dutch Parliament have asked their government to ensure that Albania amends the controversial “anti-defamation” law in line with the forthcoming recommendations of the Venice Commission.

The parliamentary record for a debate on European Integration states that Dutch MPs will support the opening of negotiations for accession talks with Albania. They said however that a number of issues need to be addressed including the judicial vetting process, corruption, organised crime, unfounded asylum applications amongst others. It also states that the initiation of proceedings against those accused of vote-buying should be a key priority.

It also clearly states that the media law must be amended to reflect the recommendations of the Venice Commission, noting that this is also an important priority.

“But before the accession negotiations can actually be opened, Albania will have to take a lot of steps to demonstrate a track record. In addition to the government’s additional conditions for an intergovernmental conference to take place, members of the Christian Union Group propose that [Albania implement] the recommendations of the Venice Commission on media law…” the report notes.

The so-called “anti-defamation” package was proposed by Prime Minister Edi Rama’s government and received widespread international criticism. The amendments would see all online media, effectively come under the supervisory jurisdiction of the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA). This state institution would have the power to block, suspend and fine those that it deems are breaking loosely defined parameters relating to ‘fake news’.

The four candidates put forward to lead the AMA do not meet the legally mandated requirement of having at least 10 years experience in the media. In addition to this, they have all served in political positions in the Socialist Party government, and two have worked in creating political propaganda for the same party.

Concerns have been raised by local and international media freedom organisations, the OSCE, CoE, EU and members of EU Parliament over fears the law will be used as a political tool to control independent media.

In December it was passed by the Albanian Parliament but President Ilir Meta vetoed the law, calling it unconstitutional and returning it to lawmakers. The Venice Commission said it will give an opinion on the constitutionality of the law and the government said they will wait for that opinion before voting on it again. If they vote to pass it, it will enter into force without the President’s approval.

Exit has previously revealed that the Venice Commission is being pressured by the Albanian government to “tone down” and make changes to the scathing draft opinion on the appointments of members of the Constitutional Court.

Both the opinion on the Constitutional Court and the media law have been postponed, the latter until June apparently due to the Coronavirus epidemic. This was confirmed via email to Exit. Despite this, the Commission adopted other opinions on the date Albania’s were due, raising doubts over the real reason for the delay.

The Albanian Media Council have called the media law “draconian” and said it will have a “chilling effect” on media freedom in Albania.