The European Union Delegation in Tirana has asked the Albanian government to postpone the selection of the Chairman of the Audiovisual Media Authority and its board until the new Parliament is convened in September.
Media regulatory authorities need to work impartially, transparently and with a legitimacy that is recognised by all. The #EU revised the Audiovisual Media Services Directive & introduced new independence requirements for national media regulators, including the obligation… 1/4
— EU in Albania (@EUinAlbania) July 7, 2021
The call comes following concerns that the ruling Socialist Party is rushing to fill AMA key positions with partisan individuals during this legislature and without the presence of the two main opposition parties in parliament.
AMA is the authority that oversees broadcast media in Albania. It is also the body that is named as the responsible authority in the controversial “anti-defamation package”. The package would bring all online media in Albania under its jurisdiction and it would have the power to fine, limit access, force popups, and make other ex-judicial rulings on supposed violations of the law. The Package was widely condemned by local and international media organizations as well as diplomats, and civil society. It’s feared the law will be used as a way to silence critical media and those that want to hold power to account.
The Venice Commission issued a set of recommendations on the package, namely that it’s not fit for adoption in its current format and needs significant changes. It also stated that the members of AMA must be independent and not affiliated with any political party so as to avoid a “chilling effect” on Albanian journalists.
Albanian parliament is set to decide on who will head AMA today. One of the individuals in the running is Armela Krasniqi, who has worked for the Socialist Party for over a decade in various roles, including being Director of Communications for Prime Minister Edi Rama. Alket Dibra is also in the running and little information is available on him. It appears he has not worked in media or as a journalist in Albania in any capacity.
Today, the EUD said that “media regulatory authorities need to work impartially, transparently and with a legitimacy that is recognized by all.” They also stated that they had revised the Audiovisual Media Services Directive and had introduced new independence requirements for national media regulators, including “the obligation to set up transparent and independent procedures for the appointment and dismissal of the chair and board members.”
They continued that there should be no doubt about the non-partisan, professional, and pluralistic nature of the work of AMA.
In terms of today’s pending decision, they invite the government to consider waiting until September to complete the selection, “in order to achieve the widest possible consensus and legitimacy.”
Reporters Without Borders made the same call in May of this year. Referring to the risk of political takeover, they said they should wait for the new session of Parliament and the inclusion of the Opposition parties.
In its statement, the RSF reminded the PS that “[a]ccording to the law, the parliament must maintain a balance between candidacies supported by the government and the opposition.”
In another statement issued yesterday, RSF referred to the “legislative threat” posed by the impending anti-defamation law, which is still pending in an unamended format on Parliaments agenda.
According to RSF, such a configuration would allow AMA “to impose disproportionate sanctions on news websites and would probably encourage self-censorship.”
Therefore, the RSF “urges the European institutions to demand clear guarantees by Albania that are consistent with its desire to join the European Union.”
They said the “draconian law” gangs over the heads of Albanian journalists “like the sword of Damocles.”
The law must be either withdrawn, or amended in line with Venice Commission recommendations and in consultation with Albania’s journalists.
“The Albanian media cannot be condemned to an unbearable wait of unknown length by a government with a history of press freedom violations,” they added.