Yesterday, the Albanian Parliament announced four vacancies for the Audio-Visual Media Authority, the entity which could be entrusted with supervising and doling out penalties to online media if the controversial “anti-defamation” package is passed.
By law, the AMA is supposed to be a politically independent authority, but two of the current members are politically affiliated. The announcement of the vacancies before the formation of the new parliament in September has raised concerns that the board will be filled with those loyal to the ruling Socialist Party (PS).
In early 2019, the Democratic Party (PD) and LSI resigned their mandates in parliament in protests over alleged election rigging. Their benches were filled with lower-tier MPs and political individuals, many of whom have been accused of being sympathetic to the PS. Several have even moved from the opposition, and become members of the ruling party.
Following the April 25 elections, the PD and LSI will return to parliament to bring more of a balance.
Koloreto Cukali, head of the Albanian Media Council, an NGO, told BIRN that the apparent rush to fill the vacancies looks like a power grab and count impact the credibility of the board.
“Such institutions should be independent and not, as they have been till now, cross-party boards, if the current parliament elects all of them [the board members], the AMA’s reputation will suffer even more.”
The anti-defamation package was proposed by the Albanian government in 2018. It envisaged bringing all online media under the direct supervision of AMA. They would have the power, without any court processes to close, ban, enforce popups, and fine any entity that they found violated, in their opinion, a number of rules related to fake news.
The draft was condemned locally and internationally and Albania was warned that such a law would impact its EU accession process. It was even included as one of the 15 conditions the country has to meet to sit at the table of the first intergovernmental conference.
The draft was reworked, but still did not meet the standard of the Venice Commission who essentially called for it to be scrapped, or reworked completely. They noted that self-regulation was the preferred method for dealing with these issues, and said that a board such as AMA, whose independence was questionable, should not have judicial powers.
The Parliament passed the law in the first round of voting in 2020. It was then sent to the President who vetoed it and returned it to parliament. It’s now awaiting second vote, which if approved, means it will enter into force.
There has been no transparency around the current form or status of the law. It is still on the agenda of parliament and has not been formally withdrawn, despite Albania’s rapporteur to the EC, Isabel Santos, claiming that it had been.
This new move to fill AMA with potentially political appointees, raises concerns that the passing the law could be imminent and that if this is the case, the board will favor the ruling party.