The Association of European Journalists’ Albanian section expresses its urgent concern that the proposed new law on online media registration is a “direct attack” on the freedom of online media. We join the statements of 15 other associations and that of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media that this draft has serious defects that directly affect the freedom of online media.

The so called anti-fake news draft, whose stated goal is to stop the spread of fake news, child pornography and news that represent a risk to national security, actually reflects the demand for arbitrary powers to be assumed by the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama. The legislation threatens the fundamental rights of the Albanian public and is vigorously opposed by the media community and the associations that protect them.

15 associations of journalists have strongly criticized this new draft that is not yet voted by the parliament, considering it a great risk to media freedom and failing to provide workable solutions to issues related to fake news, propaganda, hate speech and disinformation.

The law has also been criticized by representatives of the European Union and the OSCE, who have called for less intrusive and wide-ranging approaches. The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe has stated said that the proposed stringent regulation of online media is not in line with the standards of the Council of Europe, so it is necessary to adopt different policies concerning online and offline media.

The official in the OSCE’s office in Tirana who has responsibilities for the media, Irina Radu has pointed out that many people benefit greatly from using online media because it is cheaper and less subject to restrictive controls. Earlier, the OSCE’s media freedom representative Harlem Desir called for a review of the draft law  proposed by the government.

We also welcome the comments made by the prestigious The New York Times newspaper which advocated a re-think of this draft legislation because of its likely damaging impact on online media freedom.

The law was drafted without initial consultation with journalists’ associations and was kept secret until a few weeks ago. The law grants the AMA (Albanian Media Audio Visual Agency) legal authority to fine online media based on third party annexes, to order the closure of internet portals in Albania without the necessary legal safeguards, or to impose fines of up to 8 million leke ( about 6500 euros). It even gives powers to AKEP, an institution whose head is elected by political parties, to shut down online media without a proper legal procedure at the outset of a complaint by a third party, which significantly increases censorship and the risk of self-censorship in the media.

The proposal to impose a 20% tax on online media and a 6% tax on television stations demonstrates the hostile intent of this initiative by the ruling part, towards online media which criticize  its actions. According to official data the traditional media TVs have the highest annual revenues, yet they are to be more lightly taxed.

AEJ Albania insists that self-regulation is the best solution for the Albanian media, because any political interference violates its independence and has a negative impact on the country’s democracy.

For these reasons it calls on the Government and MPs not to vote on this legal initiative but instead to withdraw it. Such a vote would risk inflicting long-term damage on media freedom and obstructing Albania’s progress towards EU integration.