Venice Commission Slams Albanian Government’s Draft Law Censoring Online Media

The Venice Commission has slammed the Albanian government’s controversial draft law, aimed at regulating the online media in the country, for suppressing free speech.

In their draft opinion dated May 28, the Commission consideres the draft amendments “not ready for adoption in their current form”, adding that the law “suffers from vagueness and would likely have a ‘chilling effect’ suppressing free discussion and political speech […]”

They urge the Albanian government to support the setting-up of a self-regulatory body instead, that would ensure online media accountability.

This is the second draft opinion in a few days that refutes actions by the Albanian government and the Socialist majority. Lat week, another draft opinion blasted decisions regarding the justice reform in the country.

In the latest opinion, the Commission notes that the so-called “anti-defamation package” extends the competency of the Albanian Media Authority (AMA) and of the Complaints Committee (CC) to the sector of online media and give them new administrative powers. However, the Commission urges the government to revise the method of selection of members to these bodies, so that they are qualified individuals that represent the media community and are independent from government and corporate control.

The Commission acknowledges the government’s efforts to improve the law, but states that public consultations “were not always well-structured”.

Some of other main flaws of the draft law, according to the Venice Commission, include:

  • There is a risk that individual bloggers, users of social platforms, etc. will also be targeted by this law. It is essential that the government excludes non-professional online media outlets from the scope of the law.
  • The government demand for online media outlets to disclose identities of people behind them runs against international standards and “the will of users of the Internet not to disclose their identity should normally be respected.”
  • Administrative powers given to the CC/AMA are problematic with regard to the freedom of expression. These bodies are not independent and hence the extra power given to them may be abused on behalf of the government and companies connected with politics.
  • There are no safeguards for those who want to complain about the CC/AMA heavy fines and orders to take down content from the Internet, which are immediately enforceable. Fines are disproportionate to the economic capacity of media outlets, which would “magnify the chilling effect” of government measures and “lead to self-censorship to the detriment of the political debate essential to any democracy.”

Finally, the Venice Commission recommends the Albanian government to “reconsidering the adoption” of the law because it “may do more harm than good to the freedom of the expression” in the country.