From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Journalists Protest ‘Draconian’ Media Laws outside Albanian Parliament

This morning, hundreds of journalists, members of civil society, and civilians protested outside of Parliament against the controversial “anti-defamation package” that is set to be passed by the Socialist Party majority.

Protesters held banners saying “Hey Rama, you can’t silence us all!”, “don’t censor my speech”, “don’t police speech”, and “Journalists are not criminals”. It was attended by journalists from online and TV media, students, and citizens of all ages. Many wore black scarves around their mouths to symbolize the way that the government intends to silence the press.

Also in attendance were representatives from the Albanian Media Council, local journalism unions, and international media freedom organisations including the European Center for Press and Media Freedom.

Journalist Artur Zheji was present at the protest but criticized the fact that more prominent faces were not in attendance. He added that the protest would do little to change anything as the MPs are “robots that receive orders from a central ship that the Prime Minister activates with an SMS.”

Those in attendance spoke of how the law has nothing to do with addressing fake news and defamation and is instead an attempt to control the narrative. They feel that it will be used to target portals and journalists that are critical of the government, by imposing excessively high fines and blocking access. Journalists are adamant that civil and criminal defamation laws already exist and that there is no need for additional regulations, especially ones that will be supervised by a non-judicial institution- the AMA.

In parliament today, Prime Minister Edi Rama made a number of statements attacking journalists. He called them “human rights abusers” and implied that they were illiterate.

“We are in front of a crowd who does not read and even says that we do not care what the law says…they are human rights abuses”, he said.

He added that the OSCE has reported that defamation is a criminal offence in 42 countries. What he did not add, however, is the fact that it is widely criticized and the international standard is self-regulation and civil recourse. Rama also said that his proposed law is “like lemonade” compared to EU countries, yet no EU country has any similar laws, and when Malta tried to introduce one in 2017, they were told it would go against EU standards and withdrew it.

Rama then compared journalists organisations to “fake Facebook profiles” and named a number of journalists that oppose the bill, accusing them of slander and libel.

He also said that journalists must pay the price for publishing allegations, adding “anyone who undertakes to write must either give evidence or face what he or she is accusing and must pay the price,” ignoring the fact that Albania has extensive criminal and civil defamation suits already.

Rama himself has filed a number of defamation lawsuits against journalists and civil society so is well-acquainted with the existing system.

He continues to claim that it meets international standards, despite the fact that as long as the AMA is regulating online media, it violates a number of best practices including those laid down by the EU and the Council of Europe. 

Even the OSCE, which has given some support to the new law, does not support state regulation, preferring self-regulation through ethics codes, press and media councils, complaints commissions and in-house Ombudsman.