Albania: Government should withdraw “anti-defamation” legislative package introducing state regulation of online media outlets!

On 3 July the Albanian Government’s Council of Ministers approved a series of amendments known as the “anti-defamation package” which include amendments to law Nr.97/2013 “On Audio Visual Media in the Republic of Albania and law Nr.9918 “On Electronic Communications in the Republic of Albania.” The legislative package is a cosmetic review of highly-criticised amendments submitted in December 2018.
26 July 2019
Our organisations raised our grave concerns with the proposed legislation during our June 2019 meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama, urging that the amendments be brought into line with international standards. However the revised amendments of 3 July continue to fall far short of OSCE, Council of Europe and international best practice. The OSCE and local journalists and civil society have repeatedly raised their serious concerns that this package would be detrimental to freedom of expression online. We join Albanian civil society and independent media in calling on the Government of Albania to withdraw these two bills and call on parliament not to approve them.
Amendments to law Nr.97/2013 “On Audio Visual Media in the Republic of Albania
The draft laws approved by the Albanian government would empower a state administrative body to regulate the content of online media outlets. These draft laws seek to impose a regime of administrative control on online media through the Audio Visual Media Authority (AMA), a measure which is unprecedented in democratic states. Article 11/2 states that “the scope of work of the Complaints Council is to oversee the provisions of this law, the Code and regulations approved by AMA, particularly related to the respect of dignity and fundamental human rights.” The 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 a model of self-regulation of online media restrict the role of courts.
The changes proposed in 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 a 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 an apology, remove content or insert a pop-up notice in cases of violations of provisions on dignity and privacy. The obligation imposed on online media outlets to protect the ‘dignity and privacy’ of citizens is overly broad and vaguely defined.
We are concerned that it could empower 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. An administrative body, such as AMA, cannot and should not shoulder competencies to review defamation, which should be adjudicated by the courts through criminal and civil procedure.
The draft law also empowers the Complaints Council to impose 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 administrative fines do not differentiate between private citizens and national broadcasters, raising concerns about proportionality.
Law Nr.9918 “On Electronic Communications in the Republic of Albania”
Amendments 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 go against international best practices that aim at the self-regulation of online media and not its regulation by the state, through administrative censorship bodies. These draft bills also have not been drafted through a transparent procedure in consultation with all interested stakeholders, a concern we raised in a meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama during our press freedom mission in June 2019.
We call on 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 (OSCE). Instead of seeking further administrative regulations on defamation, the government should seek its complete decriminalization, as suggested by best international practices. We urge the government of Albania to ensure that a meaningful consultation process with journalists and civil society is undertaken with the next draft of the amendments.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Reporters Sans Frontières/ Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)