European Federation of Journalists

Albanian government must retract proposed laws on online media

A group of organisations for the protection of human rights, freedom of information and journalists associations demand from the Albanian Prime Minister to drop proposals on regulation of online media. The European and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) join their Albanian affiliates, the Association of Professional Journalists of Albanian and the League of Albanian Journalists, and the other organisations on their request to the government to drop an amendment that will put in risk online media freedom in the country.

Here is the full joint-letter:

We inform the public that the two proposals endanger freedom of expression and could turn Albania in an undemocratic country and in the same time, are not helpful in tackling existing problems of the media, including hate speech, defamation, propaganda or disinformation.

The two draft-laws[1] aim to create a registry of online publications and provide rights to an institution known as the “Complaints Council” to sanction online media based on third-party requests, to order their closure or block of the access on such media in the territory of the Republic of Albania.

The draft-laws provide legal mechanisms for Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA) and Tax Authority to fine or close down online media without clear procedures. As such they pose a threat to seriously increase the level of censorship and self-censorship already present in Albania’s media scene.

We observe that the argument provided repeatedly by AMA and other officials, including Prime Minister Edi Rama, that the proposals are based on “Croatian model” is inaccurate. We have investigated such claims and found that no such laws exist in the Republic of Croatia.

If the ruling socialist parliamentary majority will enact these proposals, our hybrid democracy will inevitably slither toward an authoritarian regime. In democratic countries, the aim of the law is to protect citizens from the government and not to protect the government from the citizens.

Since 1 January, the government imposed a new 20% vat on online media, which creates distortion due to the fact that audiovisual media is taxed by 6% while print media is tax-free.

While acknowledging the numerous problems that currently plague online communications, including unnecessary offensive language, libel and hate speech, we believe that the current proposals fail to tackle such issues while in the same time, they have the potential to be used as pressure tools by the government against journalists and critics.

Self-regulation of the media, education and public awareness campaigns aiming to improve media literacy; awareness of propaganda, disinformation and fake news are the adequate tools to counter these problems – both online and offline.

Being aware that Albania has to align its legislation with that of the European Union, we observe that the two proposals risk setting back the process of European integration of the country.

List of signatory organisations:

  • BIRN Albania
  • Association of Professional Journalists of Albania
  • League of Albanian Journalists
  • AIS/Open Data Albania
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Albania Media Council
  •  MediaLook Center

Photo Credit : Presentation of the joint letter in Tirana © Mimoza Koçiu