The Safe Journalists Network has called on diplomatic organizations in Albania to pay attention to the “anti-defamation package” and its impact on media freedom.
A series of letters raising concerns and calling for decisive action was sent to the Head of the OSCE delegation, Vincenzo del Monaco, EU ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca, CoE Head of Mission Jutta Gutzkow, and the outgoing Speaker of Albanian Parliament Gramoz Ruci.
The letter, signed by journalists associations from Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, urges the diplomats to speak out and take steps to condemn any possible setbacks to the deterioration of the media environment in the country.
It starts by expressing concern over the election of the new Head of the Audiovisual Media Authority and its board members.
“We are concerned about the independence and professionalism of the two candidates for the Head of AMA; both criteria are essential for media freedom and democratic processes n Albania,” they write.
It continues that there were shortcomings in the procedure for their selection, including no meaningful competition and “done in haste within the current Parliament,” without opposition, and with the approval of a Parliament whose mandate ends soon.
The two candidates proposed for the role are Armela Krasniqi and Alekt Dibra.
Krasniqi is currently the General Director of the Albanian Telegraphic Agency, a state-owned media platform. Between 2013 and 2017, she was Director of Communications and Public Relations for Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office. She has spent most of her career working for the ruling Socialist Party.
Little is known about Dibra, but it is clear there is no journalistic experience as they do not appear to have written any articles or published any news, ever.
Others running for board positions include journalist at Channel 1, Edjona Dervishi, lecturer at the Faculty of Economics, Engjellush Serjani, painter Helidon Haliti, sometimes-journalist Manjola Tershana, unknown Saimir Aliaj, and journalist at RTSH, the state broadcaster Joana Allushi.
Safe Journalists states that “the Head of AMA and its board members must be legally non-partisan and politically independent.” Furthermore, they should be proposed by different political parties. Still, under the current parliamentary system with no opposition, this cannot be guaranteed.
They also highlight the pressing issue of the “anti-defamation package.” The controversial draft law will bring all online media in Albania under the control and supervision of AMA. They will have the power to act ex-judicially and impose fines, popups, retractions, and other measures that risk having a chilling effect on Albanian media.
The law was passed in parliament, vetoed by the President, and then sent back to parliament, where it sits on the agenda, at risk of being passed at any moment.
Safe Journalists noted that the law was opposed by civil society, media organizations, regional and international media networks and was rejected by the President and Venice Commission in June 2020. The Venice Commission issued a scathing opinion on the draft and suggested numerous changes that would need to be enacted before it could be considered passable.
More than 12 months later, the law has still not been amended to meet the required standards.
They have asked all addresses to react to these issues and ask Albanian Parliament to adhere to international standards of media freedom, including the Copenhagen criteria for freedom of expression, part of the EU accession process.
Additionally, they asked the diplomats to condemn attempts by government officials to influence or control independent media institutions such as AMA.
The call comes following months of silence from previously outspoken diplomats. Between 2018 and the end of 2020, diplomats in Tirana were very outspoken on the law. They were clear it did not meet international standards and that if it was to be passed, the Vence Commission recommendations should be implemented. But during 2021, they fell silent and failed to support Albanian journalists in the continued campaign against the legislation.