Fifteen Albanian rights organisations, including BIRN Albania, issued a joint statement on Friday calling on parliament to dismiss legislation proposed by the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama to bring in supervision of the country’s online media.
“Civil society organisations call upon the government to withdraw the proposed laws. If the government refuses to do so, we also call upon the parliament of Albania to reject these laws at once,” the statement said.
The statement was issued after the parliamentary law committee started its discussion on Friday of the two controversial media laws.
The laws are being touted by Rama as necessary to “regulate the online media”, but rights groups describe them as an attack on freedom of speech.
The first draft law gives the Media Supervisory Authority’s Complaints Council the power to oblige electronic publications and service providers to publish apologies, remove content or insert pop-up notices if they are found to have violated provisions on dignity and privacy.
The council has the power to fine media up to two million leks (about 16,500 euros) for such violations.
The second draft law subjects online media to the Telecommunication and Postal Authority, AKEP, which will have the power to insert pop-ups on websites if they have been found to have broken the law by the Complaints Council.
Failure to comply would result in fines up to 830,000 euros.
“The need to regulate online media or online services is one that is not only observed in Albania but is [part of a larger] trend that is also observed in the European Union, Canada, the United States or Australia,” Deputy Minister of Justice Fjoralba Caka told Friday’s law committee hearing, without providing evidence to support his assertion.
Klotilda Bushka, an MP from the governing Socialist Party, claimed to have consulted international experts on the proposed laws.
“The two laws are such that they serve the interests of the public. We know that the role of the media in a democratic society is essential and needs to be guaranteed but at the same time these guarantees should be balanced with the rights of individuals to dignity and private life, so that they can enjoy their rights in the same way as media enjoys its rights,” Bushka said.
Prime Minister Rama has repeatedly complained of “defamation” of the government and has attacked critical media using a variety of epithets, calling some of them charlatans, garbage bins, poison or public enemies.
In October 2018, he declared that he was preparing an “anti-defamation package” that would include “heavy fines”.