Albanian President Vetoes Laws Censoring Online Media

President Ilir Meta returned to Parliament the two laws of the so-called “anti-defamation package” which media organization have considered a government tool for online media censorship. The two laws are that “On Audiovisual Media” and “On Electronic Communication”.

The President argued that both laws violate:

  • The fundamental constitutional principles of a democracy;
  • The right to freedom of expression, press and the right to information;
  • The previous decisions of the Constitutional Court;
  • The European Convention on Human Rights.

Meta argued in his decision that the implementation of these laws would lead to censorship due to government agencies’ power to impose fines that need to be paid before a final court verdict.

He added that if implemented, these laws would create an arbitrary an insecure state for online media; a state where the government could use the said laws in unjust ways in order to silence those media portals that oppose government views. Such situation would bring the country on the verge of autocracy and endanger Albania’s path toward EU accession.

“This reality would produce intimidation and self-censorship, unlawful closure or suspension of electronic media, directly affecting the quality and objectivity of information, which would result in providing the public with information other than facts, which would mislead the society not only in seeking their rights, but in fulfilling civic responsibilities for building and preserving the democracy.”

Meta also slammed the excessive powers given to government agencies to impose hefty fines to online media that they deem to have published fake news.

“The assignment by law, to an administrative body, of powers that the Constitution does not allow it, the lack of transparency in decision-making procedure, and the application of disproportionate sanctions, without going through judicial review [in court], does not balance between the public interest to be protected from fake news/information, and the right to information, freedom of expression and development of economic activity in the field of electronic publications.”

Government measures against fake news should not infringe on the right to information, freedom of expression and economic activity, which are right that enjoy special protection under the Constitution and international acts, according to the President. He called on the Parliament to review the laws accordingly.

The Socialist majority dismissed the sharp criticism  from journalists, local and international media organizations, the European Commission, and Members of the European Parliament, and on December 18, 2019, they passed the laws in Parliament.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the OSCE agreed with the final version before adoption in Parliament.

Despite earlier criticism, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir, who will work under Rama’s leadership as OSCE Chair-in-Person for 2020, said the government had made improvements to the draft-laws. In an interview for Exit News, he added that his office still has concerns, and it will assist the government in drafting good bylaws and in overseeing their implementation.

The Albanian constitution prescribes that the President can return a law to Parliament only once. The majority of the MPs can either rewrite the law or dismiss his veto and pass the law with a simple majority. The Socialist Party has dismissed laws returned by the president on multiple occasions.