The saga of Albania’s ‘anti-defamation’ package continues, as answers are still being sought whether the law will be passed or not.
In March of this year, MEPs David Lega and Michael Gahler asked EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi about the status of the law and what the Commission’s standpoint was on the law in relation to Albania’s EU accession bid.
If adopted, the amendments would bring all online media under the direct control of the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA), a board of government appointees. They would have the power to block, fine, and even potentially close any sites they deem have violated vague laws on hate speech, fake news, and causing panic.
The MEPs’ questions state:
“We were therefore pleased to see the Council state in its conclusions of 25 March 2020 that Albania must revise the proposal before the first intergovernmental conference and that ‘amending the medial law in line with the Venice Commission remain important priorities.”
They also note that these changes have not been made, and proceed to ask why Varheyi insists that all criteria for the first intergovernmental conference have been met.
“How can the Council conclusions – as well as the Copenhagen criteria of freedom of expression – be considered fulfilled when the Venice Commission recommendation has not yet been implemented?” it queries.
Over five months later, Varhelyi provided his answer. He claimed that contrary to what was written in the 2020 report, “amending the media law in line with the Venice Commission recommendations was not set in the March 2020 Council Conclusions as a condition for holding the first Inter-Governmental Conference, but rather considered an important priority for follow-up.”
He continued that representatives from the government have “publicly committed” to ensuring that any new media legislation would be in line with the VC recommendations. Varhelyi then states that the government “indicated” they had reconsidered the adoption of the draft law. He didn’t mention the fact that it’s still on the agenda of parliament.
Varhelyi concludes his answer by stating that the Commission has “taken note of Albanian authorities’ decision not to change the law in a way incompatible with international standards,” adding they will continue to monitor the media freedom situation in the country.
Before the dissolution of parliament, the ruling Socialist Party, which held a majority after the opposition resigned their mandates in 2019, voted in Prime Minister Edi Rama’s ex-Director of Communications as the head of AMA, the body that under the anti-defamation package would implement the new provisions.
This violates several VC recommendations, including stipulations in Albanian law that appointees to the AMA board be independent and free from political influence.
The government proceeded with the appointment, despite calls from the EU, media organizations, and local and international stakeholders to wait until the new parliament, complete with an opposition, convenes in September.