Albania : EU must seek guarantees against legislative threat to Albanian journalists
Albania’s prime minister has not yet undertaken to amend or withdraw a draconian “anti-defamation” package that is still pending in parliament and continues to hang like the sword of Damocles over the heads of the country’s journalists. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the European institutions to demand clear guarantees by Albania that are consistent with its desire to join the European Union.
The package of amendments to Albania’s audiovisual media service law, known as the “anti-defamation package”, is still on the parliamentary agenda although local journalists’ associations and international press freedom groups, including RSF, have repeatedly denounced it as a threat to freedom of the media in Albania.
The proposed law, which would allow Albania’s media regulator, the Audio-Visual Media Authority (AMA), to impose disproportionate sanctions on news websites and would probably encourage self-censorship, has also been criticised by the European Union, which Albania wants to join.
With the aim of safeguarding press freedom in Albania, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament have all asked the Albanian government to modify the bill in accordance with recommendations made by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in June 2020.
The European Commission told RSF last month that Albania’s ruling Socialist Party “has given clear indications that it does not intend to pursue the adoption of this pending legislation and that it would comply with the Venice Commission’s recommendations if the legislation were to be adopted in the future.”
But Edi Rama, who heads the Socialist Party and who is prime minister, has not as yet undertaken to follow the Venice Commission’s advice or to abandon this bill, which has been pending before parliament since September 2020 without Albania’s journalists being informed about its fate or consulted by the government on the subject. Several have told RSF that, in the absence of a clear and public undertaking, they fear that the original version could still be adopted.
“The so-called anti-defamation legislation is hanging like the sword of Damocles over the heads of Albania’s journalists,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk. “We ask the European institutions and the European Commission in particular to demand clear, public guarantees from the Albanian authorities that this legislation, which is incompatible with Albania’s desire to join the European Union, will be withdrawn or amended in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations and in consultation with Albania’s journalists. The Albanian media cannot be condemned to an unbearable wait of unknown length by a government with a history of press freedom violations.”
Although the ruling party has yet to make a public decision about the bill, it is pressing ahead with the election of the president of the independent media regulator AMA, without waiting for the parliament that was elected last April to begin sitting with opposition party representatives attending.
One of the two candidates proposed by the parliamentary media committee is Armela Krasniqi, who is the prime minister’s former communications director and has spent most of her career working for his party.
Under the control of the prime minister’s party, parliament voted for the “anti-defamation” package in December 2019 but it did not take effect for the sole reason that it was vetoed by the president, a leading political opponent of the prime minister. The veto could be overruled at a subsequent reading.
Albania is ranked 83rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.