Statement on the legislative package of draft laws approved by the Council of Ministers on online media regulation
After having reviewed the draft law ‘On a number of changes to the law Nr.97/2013 “On Audio Visual Media in the Republic of Albania’, changed; and the draft law ‘On a number of changes to the law Nr.9918 “On Electronic Communications in the Republic of Albania,” changed; which were approved by the Council of Ministers on July 3rd 2019, we as representatives of media, freedom of expression and humans rights organizations declare as follow:
The draft laws approved by the Albanian government do not fulfil international standards and the principles of media freedom and freedom of expression enshrined in the Albanian Constitution, because they empower a state administrative body to regulate the content of online media outlets, while at the same time do not address the widespread problem of hidden propaganda and disinformation, sponsored by the government, local government units and political parties.
These drafts laws risk the increase of censorship and self-censorship in the local media and could contribute to further setbacks on media freedom and freedom of expression in Albania, which based on the June 2019 assessment of seven international organizations is ‘deteriorating’.
These draft laws, in an unprecedented way in democratic countries, seek to impose a regime of administrative control on online media through the Audio Visual Media Authority (AMA). AMA is an institution whose board members are nominated and dismissed on the discretion of political parties. Through the Complaints Council that is part of AMA, the draft laws seek to replace model of self-regulation of online media and the role of courts.
The changes proposed on the law Nr.97/2013 “On Audio Visual Media in the Republic of Albania,” indirectly impose the registration of the ‘provider of media services’ as precondition to receive ‘fiscal benefits and other benefits of the kind.’
This draft law gives the Complaints Council the power to oblige electronic publications service providers to publish and apology, remove content or insert a pop-up notice in cases of violations of provisions on dignity and privacy. The obligation set on online media outlets to protect the ‘dignity and privacy’ of citizens is too broad and poorly defined and therefore could empowerment the Complaint Council to become a censorship body, by ordering the removal of online media content on an almost discretionary manner and without a court order.
We believe that an administrative body, such as AMA, cannot and should not shoulder competencies to review defamation, which is adjudicated by the courts through criminal and civil procedure.
The draft law Nr.97/2013 “On Audio Visual Media in the Republic of Albania,” also empowers the Complaints Council to imposed administrative fines that vary from 100,000 lek to 1 million lek (from €820 to €8200), which have to be paid before the legal review is exhausted. These ‘draconian’ administrative fines do not differentiate between a blog of a private citizen and the online portal of a national TV broadcaster.
Also, changes proposed to the law Nr.9918 “On electronic Communications in the Republic of Albania,” open the way for superimposed regulation of online media, not only from AMA but also from the Authority of Postal and Electronic Communications (AKEP). Changes proposed to article 137 of this law, expose ‘providers of electronic communications’, which do not abide by AKEP rulings/orders that relate to the acts and decisions of the Complaints Council of AMA, or any other body with legal competences in this field, to fines up to 100 million lek (€820,000).
Both proposed draft laws are against international best practices that aim the self-regulation of online media and not its regulation by the state, through administrative censorship bodies. These bills also have not been drafted through a transparent procedure in consultation with all interested stakeholders.
We encourage the Government of Albania to withdraw these two bills and call on parliament not to approve them, on account of the objections raised by journalists, civil society and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Other than seeking further administrative regulations on defamation, the government should seek its complete decriminalization, as suggested by best international practices.
The approval of these laws in their current format or with cosmetic changes would be a step back for democracy and fundamental rights in Albania and its integration process in the EU.
Albanian Center for Quality Journalism
Albanian Center MediaLook
Albanian Institute of Science
Albanian Media Council
Albanian Media Institute
Association of Professional Journalists of Albania
Civil Rights Defenders
Res Publica Center
Union Of Albanian Journalists