The Albanian Media Council is following with concern the Albanian Government’s latest actions on media in the emergency situation of the aftermath of the 26 November earthquake.
The first case of concern, relates to an Order sent to online portals that states: “WE URGENTLY REQUEST the publication of the attached information as required in the letter of the Ministry of Defense …” “as a requirement of Law 45/2019″ On Civil Protection ” “”.
AMC reminds the government that this order is unconstitutional because the law it refers to, only applies to TV and Radio (whose operate in the bandwidth owned by the state and their licenses are granted by the government), and not to the world wide web, which is a global, public, free space.
AMC encourages the portals to publish all the information that might help easing the civil emergency situation, but reminds the government that it can NOT order any news portal to do so, especially enforcing it through AKEP (The Agency that manages DOT.AL domains), an agency unrelated to the law in question.
The second case of concern is the blocking in Facebook of an editorial of the Dita Online Newspaper by Government. The government cannot block critic voices, especially on the pretext of a state of emergency.
The third case of concern is about the block of access to the JOQ portal in Albania, an act that is illegal. The government cannot prohibit citizens or portals from denouncing the mismanagement of the situation (where it exists) and, furthermore, cannot block an entire portal for a single publication. The JOQ case clearly reflects what will happen to the media in the future if the Government passes the infamous so-called “anti-defamation” law. The government has the right to prosecute anyone who has violated the laws, even in the context of a state of emergency, but cannot close no media through AKEP or any other instruments it possess without a court ruling.
The media must contain the possible spread of fake news. The media have a duty to guard against the publication of unverified news that may spread panic especially in this situation. Any news or reporting during this period, must be very accurately verified before it is transmitted as true. Not every quote, even by seismologists, should be published if the words spread panic.
Also, the media should avoid using bombastic terminology such as “fear”, “horror”, “apocalyptic”, etc., because these terms do not express facts but merely the opinions of reporters.
On the other hand, the Government should not interpret the situation as a reason to exert censorship on the media, such as the case of the Dita Online newspaper and the closure of JOQ.
First, the Government should make public which office and responsible persons are in charge of media monitoring in this situation, and, most importantly, the Government should make clear what are the topics it requires the media to be careful under the emergency situation.
This is important so that the state of emergency cannot be used to selectively target and censor the media.
The government also cannot arrest citizens merely for republishing news, as was the case of a girl who reposted a news story from an Italian portal on Porto Romano deposits.
The best way to calm the public in this situation is not through media closure, but through transparency of the Government itself, through a serious, rigorous and continuous flow of information on the situation, including that of deposits in Porto Romano.
But as long as the Government only allows ERTV cameras to report the Government meetings, it means that it is blocking the access of all media to accurately report on the situation. Blocking information and replacing it with propaganda helps neither calm the public nor manage the panic. Therefore, blame should not be sought on citizens who seek for information wherever they can, as long as their government does not provide it.
By calling once again on the media to show utmost seriousness and restraint in reporting unverified news, the AMC hopes that the Albanian Government will improve its relation with media in the context of this state of emergency.
The Albanian Media Council, the journalists and media it represents, URGENTLY urge the Government not to copycat the notorious Erdogan case that used the post-coup situation to attack, arrest, shut down and hit critical media; to silence independent opinions; and to install the dictatorship of thought.