Four months before the next general elections in Albania, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has received alerting information regarding new regulations affecting media freedom situation in the country. The EFJ has been informed that new amendments proposals have been tabled by the ruling Socialist Party to the Article 78/7 of the Election Code and if adopted would seriously damage online media freedom in the country and potentially legalize censorship in Albania. The proposed amendments ambiguously target “uncontrolled and unregistered news websites” and “mandates state authorities to close them down if they engage in election propaganda or conduct unauthorized opinion polls or go beyond information”.
“The second part of the amendement law on online news is a concern to be verified during the hearing sessions in the electoral parliamentary committee. The registration of online news online sites is a good idea and in fact all domains ending with ‘.al’ are already registered in Albania. Apparently, the authorities’ concern is for the websites ending with ‘.org’, ‘.com’ etc. which are registered abroad. Our concern are the restrictions on the news during any electoral campaign because it’s not clear what the law will consider as ‘propaganda’. These changes comes in a very sensitive moment after public reports that mainstream media will change their editorial line currently critical to the government. For the very first time in Albania media reports about governmental events based on prepared materials. For example, the Prime minister’s office is now recording and preparing materials and just sending them to all TV stations for direct transmission to the public. Reporters are no more invited to follow these events, they can just receive prepared materials ready to use and this is not journalism that the public wants”, said Mimoza Koçiu, coordinator at the Association of Professional Journalists of Albania (APJA).
Separately, the Albanian electronic media regulator AMA has granted the third digital tv network license to Digitalb/Top Channel in open violations of legal media ownership limitations. “The direct consequence is an over concentration and a quasi monopoly in tv broadcasting wich will undoubtedly negatively affect the media pluralism and freedom”, says Genc Pollo, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Media.
The EFJ is particularly concerned about the wording used by the Albanian authorities towards professional journalists and media organisations. “The government is using sophisticated silence censorship against critical journalists. Any independent approach to news is immediately sanctioned by moving people from their positions. Journalists are afraid of reporting the truth because they might lose their jobs”, said Mimoza Koçiu.
Supporting its affilate APJA, the EFJ is calling the Albanian authorities to respect the work of all media outlets including the independent media coverage and reminds them that “the media have also the duty to publish opposition views, respecting criteria of balance and nondiscrimination”.
Photo Credit : Mapping Media Freedom project