The President of Albania, Ilir Meta, has vetoed a proposed law that would stifle online media following the pressure from the Association of Professional Journalists of Albania (APJA), who denounced the bill as “authoritarian”. The International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) welcomed the decision, stressing that anti-defamation laws must not be used as tools to restrain press freedom.
The proposed amendments to the Law on Audiovisual Media and the Law on Electronic Communications would have granted new government bodies such as the Albanian Media Authority (AMA) and Albanian Communication and Postal Authorities (AKEP), the power to instantly block media websites and impose excessive fines for any violations of dignity and privacy. It would have also introduced mandatory registration requirements for online media.
According to news reports, President Meta feared that Albania would become more authoritarian and would violate the Albanian constitution if the proposed package of reforms was passed. Parliament can now either accept the decree and restart the process to amend the law, or it can reject the project with a simple majority.
The President’s refusal to approve the package was due in large part to the work of the APJA and international pressure. On December 10, 2019, the EFJ backed the APJA in its call to reject the proposed amendments. Other international organizations issued a joint call to Prime Minister Edi Rama to withdraw the bill and restart the process with the assistance of the Council of Europe in Tirana.
The APJA announced it will keep monitoring the process: “We repeat our deep concerns about this “censorship package” and encourage again Prime Minister Edi Rama to withdraw this initiative. Self-regulation is the only democratic option for independent media, supported by the relevant international bodies in Albania.”