The SafeJournalists Network which represents more than 8200 media professionals in the Western Balkans has spoken of its concern at the Albanian governments plans to pass the controversial “anti-defamation law” without taking into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
The draft law includes amendments to 30 articles of the current Audio-visual Media Law, the law on electronic communications, and the competencies of the Audio-visual Media Authority (AMA). It will bring online media under the control and supervision of the Albanian state and levy fines and possible closures against those it deems have violated the law. All of this will take place outside of any judicial process and an appeal can only be lodged once the sanction has been enforced or the fines have been paid.
The law has been widely opposed by the EU, CoE, OSCE, MEPs, local and international journalists and media freedom organisations, and civil society organisations.
The law was approved by Parliament but was then vetoed by the President. It will undergo one more vote in the Assembly before it is enforced. Changes were supposed to be made to bring it in line with Albanian law and international best practices. Prime Minister Edi Rama said he would wait for the recommendations of the Venice Commission, the CoE’s constitutional law experts.
The Commission’s opinion on the law included significant criticisms and supported the idea of self-regulation and self-accountability instead of additional legislation. They added that granting powers to AMA violates media freedom and that online media should be able to follow a process that is free from administrative decisions.
Blerjana Bino of SafeJounalists said:
“While it is important to address issues of hate speech, defamation, disinformation and other related phenomena attributed usually to the online media, it has to be done by consulting relevant stakeholders and with the meaningful participation of civil society and media organisations. Self-regulation is paramount here as well as supporting the professionalism and independence of media”.
She added that if the government is determined to enact the media law, it will face little opposition in the Assembly as it is currently a one-party Parliament. This will deteriorate media freedom even more in Albania she said.
Safe Journalists urged Albanian MPs and the Parliament not to pursue the draft law but rather to have a broader, more inclusive and participatory process to reflect on the entire Venice Commission opinion.