Council of Europe Condemns Albanian Parliament’s Restriction of Journalists

The Albanian Parliament’s attempt to restrict the movement of journalists inside parliament has been reported as a “state threat” to journalists and media freedom by the Council of Europe.

The announcement was published on the CoE’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists.

At the start of June, the Parliament published a change of rules which would seek to inhibit the freedom of movement of media workers within the Assembly and all Committee rooms. It also amended regulations on accreditation, accommodation, and orientation. Under the new rules, accredited members of the press cannot physically attend or report from parliamentary committees or sessions and have to instead report from a “newsroom”.

In this newsroom, journalists will be shown a video broadcast of meetings. Those that want to interview MPs will have to make arrangements via a press office, instead of simply interviewing them face-to-face on the premises in an ad-hoc basis.

The new rules apply to all media workers except those from state broadcaster RTSH and public news agency ATSH/ATA. They will be able to move freely within the assembly, committee rooms, and Parliament.

The changes were made by the 10 members of the Bureau of Parliament, without any consultation with the journalists it would impact. Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruci signed off on the decision and the rules come into force in September 2021.

Journalists reacted with strong criticism, raising concerns that the footage they would be shown could be censored and edited. They also said they wouldn’t be able to report on the atmosphere and things that occurred while the cameras were not rolling. Other critics said it would allow MPs to avoid challenging questions, limiting transparency and accountability.

The preferential treatment of state-run news agencies would lead to unfair advantages in accessing politicians and reporting on breaking news.

Following criticism, the Parliament insinuated that the rules were designed, approved, and funded by the EU Delegation to Tirana. This was denied by the Head of the Delegation, Luigi Soreca who said that while they had funded the technological aspect, the measures being imposed were not approved, and were not in line with EU standards.

The government then held a roundtable on June 11 with media representatives. In their response to the CoE, they stated that the rules “increase transparency for journalists and the public and improves their working conditions.”

They also claimed that it’s based on the model of French and Portuguese parliaments and “does not add any new prohibition related to the spaces.”

Nevertheless, they stated that journalists had demanded the revision of paragraphs relating to “allowing the physical presence of journalists in parliamentary committees; enabling them to have some video plans for certain minutes; allowing the use of mobile devices in the committees’ rooms; not being accompanied by the security services and by the institution’s press office; allowing journalists and media staff to move in the other environments.”

The Secretary-General of Parliament then “thanked the journalists” and assured them that their requests will be forwarded for review by the Speaker of Parliament and the Bureau.