OSCE says anti-defamation law should protect, not threaten, media freedom

OSCE says anti-defamation law should protect, not threaten, media freedom

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The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe assessed on Thursday afternoon that there has been significant improvements in the “anti-defamation” package presented by the Albanian government, but stressed that new legislation should respect international standards in order not to interfere with freedom of expression.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in Vienna, Harlem Désir, published a statement and analysis of the Draft Law on Media Services in Albania.

“The new legislation should respect the OSCE standards and commitments on freedom of expression and not negatively affect the media freedom in the country,” Desir said.

This document estimates the abolition of the previous provisions on registration and blocking of the domain name, and the OSCE welcomed the fact that the changes affect only the media legislation and not the telecommunications legislation.

Désir stressed that blocking or suspension of online publications is considered an extreme measure of the state towards the right to freedom of expression, and is accepted by international standards only in cases of serious violations of other human rights or democratic principles, or other measures can not be implemented.

“My office has been involved in a lengthy consultation process during drafting of this legislation and constructive cooperation with the authorities made numerous improvements. However, further improvements in the law are still needed during parliamentary scrutiny,” he said.

Another positive element, according to the OSCE, is the abolition of the Compliance Committee’s competence to determine moral, ethical or professional respect, as well as the abolition of AMA’s powers of blocking the media in cases of “violations of the provisions of the law.”

Désir further stressed that “the Audiovisual Media Authority should not replace the independent judiciary or self-regulatory mechanisms for freedom of expression issues,” adding that this also applies to the blocking of content, fines for violations of the law and modalities of the right to respond.

The OSCE Representative noted that AMA’s powers regarding “temporary blocking or restricting access to the Internet” could only be applied in three clear cases defined by law: child pornography; encouraging terrorist acts; and national security breaches and when such measures are considered necessary and proportionate, taking into account the existence of a near danger.

Albanian media circles expressed their concern over the government’s unobserved approval of a number of legal amendments coming as anti-defamation packages.

The government said it took this step to avoid false news, bringing regulation into online media services, and electronic publications.

Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj said that Albanian society has recently been disturbed by the spread of fake news that affect the lives and dignity of family members.

“Online platforms are neither transparent nor registered, so laws are being reviewed to avoid misinformation and false news,” said Gjonaj.

The government said that with the anti-libel package, it is interfering in the law on audio-visual media, electronic communications and value added tax, and in a child protection decision.

According to her, the intervention provides for swift action on complaints to protect the rights of citizens complaining of fake news and creating a registry with these online media as taxable persons.

But Besar Likmeta, a representative of the Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN), says Albania does not have massive fake news from the media.

“Our biggest problem is the fake news and propaganda spread by the government, which copies laws from countries with autocratic tendencies like Russia,” said Likmeta.

The government says portraying records serve transparency, avoidance of conflict of interest, inadequate influence of politicians, journalists’ independence, and pluralism of the media.

But the representative of the Albanian Media Council, Koloreto Cukali, says the amendments first presented in December were described by international organizations as anti-democratic and it is unknown whether the government changed them or re-approved the same yesterday.

“The fact that it does not consult with media and media representatives shows that the government’s goal is to shut down the media online, while the new austerity amendments do not affect the personal online media of its prime minister,” said Cukali.

The government adopted these legal amendments a few days after meeting a mission of seven international media freedom organizations, which reported a deterioration of the Albanian media’s state and freedoms.

In their report they called for new measures for compulsory online media registration and the creation of a body to fine-tune and shut down online and foreign media without a court order as steps that contradict the best practices international self-regulation and can have a detrimental impact on freedom of expression and information and freedom of the press in Albania.

“At our meeting with the prime minister, he informed us that an updated version of the amendments project will be made public soon, after international criticism. He stated that in the next draft the possibility of closure would be eliminated and fines would be much lower than they were in the initial project. We welcome these changes and recall international human rights standards that states ‘states should not impose compulsory online media registration as a prerequisite for their work because this can have a very negative effect on media freedom,” said the organizations’ report.

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