The Albanian government has included provisions in the Electoral Code that could have a chilling impact on media freedom during the electoral period.
Amendments made quietly on 27 July 2020 include a number of points that seek to limit the freedom of broadcast media. They include the levying of significant fines, and the power to shut down a TV station for two days if it does not comply with standards set forth in the code.
On private radio and television, coverage of the electoral campaign is only to be done on regular and special informative editions and they are not allowed to give airtime to political entities for campaign coverage.
If a media is believed to have violated the balance of time given, they can be fined between 1.5 million ALL (EUR 12,153) and 3 million ALL (EUR 24,300).
If the situation repeats, the television station can be blocked for 48 hours.
The provisions state that televisions must apply professional criteria, ban propaganda, and within so-called “informative shows” journalists are not allowed to express comments of a political attitude. In case of violations, fines are payable between 1 million ALL (EUR 8000) and 2.5 million ALL (EUR 20,256).
When organizing political debates between political candidates, the TV station is required to “maintain the balance” between political parties. The penalty for violating this is the closure of the entire station for 48 hours.’
All fines must be paid and appeal does not suspend the requirement to pay them.
These rules raise a number of concerns. Firstly the fines are incredibly high and could cripple a small or medium-sized television portal. Secondly, the closure of an entire television station for two days is excessive and an unusual penalty.
Koloreto Cukali from the Albanian Media Council said that it seems absurd an entire station could be shut for two days, for one comment on a talk show.
He added that the wording of the law is problematic as there is no definition of “balance”, “political comments”, or the ethical standards that should be applied. Without these definitions, the law has the potential to be misused to silence critical voices. Furthermore, he questioned the ability of AMA who will oversee compliance, to judge on subjective matters and ethical standards.