15 Albanian civil society organisations have raised the alarm over the apparent plan of the Albanian government to pass the controversial media law without implementing the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
The law which if enacted will bring online media under control and supervision of the state, will have a chilling impact on media freedom in Albania. The country is already experiencing a downslide year on year in terms of its media freedom and press plurality.
The law was passed by the Socialist Majority in parliament in December. President Meta then rejected it, passing it back to the Assembly where it has remained for the last months. Prime Minister Edi Rama previously said he would wait for the comments of the Venice Commission before passing the law.
The Venice Commission issued a scathing analysis of the law and that it was open to abuse and should be redrafted. The European Commission, Council of Europe, and various international media and human rights organisations condemned the law. Meanwhile, Albanian journalists protested outside of Parliament in an effort to make a change.
According to the organisations, parliament will review only Meta’s decree to return the law and that this is being carried out past the deadlines laid out in the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly.
“Legislators’ treatment of only the concerns raised by the President’s decree would lead to ignoring some very serious remarks raised by the Venice Commission and, consequently, would create a problematic and infringing law on freedom of expression,” said the organisations.
Changes to the draft are being made under Article 86 of the Rules of Procedure which states changes can only be made to a law returned by the President and only for concerns raised by him. This means the government can effectively bypass all the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
The organizations note that this is the wrong way to deal with the problem and do not address the main concern raised by the Opinion of the Venice Commission. Consequently, the organizations call on the Albanian Parliament to accept the decree of the President and to resume the process from the beginning so that such a legal initiative can be undertaken only after we are assured of respect for the Constitution of the Republic of Albania and international standards on freedom of expression.”
They also noted that the Venice Commission’s recommendations are much broader than the proposed law and require more than just legal changes.
For example, it notes that self-regulation should be pursued rather than administrative regulation and AMA should not move into the field of online media without strengthening their independence and professionalism.
The organisations have urged Albanian parliament not to pursue current plans, but rather to reflect the entire Venice Commission opinion.