The Albanian government has presented a draft law that will require that every “electronic publication service provider” to register with them, while also being subject to fines of thousands of euros for offending the “privacy and dignity of citizens”.
The first draft of the so-called “anti-defamation package” was proposed in 2018 and gave power to the Albanian Media Authority to shut down any news website without a court order, as well as enforcing mandatory registration and large fines.
The proposal faced criticism from Reporters Without Borders, PEN International, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, and the European Federation of Journalists.
“In democratic countries, online media is self-regulated,” the international press freedom and freedom of expression organisations said. They stressed the law would have a “chilling effect in online media and restrict the Albanian citizens’ right to access information”.
These concerns were expressed during their recent visit to Albania where they asked the Prime Minister to consult with journalists and members of civil society before presenting another draft of the law.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, had also said: “States should not impose mandatory registration of online media as a precondition for their work, (as this) can have a very negative effect on media freedom”.
In 2017, the Maltese government had attempted to introduce the mandatory registration of online news portals with a fine of up to €1,000 for those who failed to so. The government later backed down following widespread local and international criticism, and a legal review by the OSCE.
Desir has given two legal reviews of the proposed law to the Albanian government, yet the draft law was presented regardless. One clause that was removed was the government’s ability to shut down news portals except when “inciting criminal acts”.
Any website that publishes current affairs or news about Albania is subject to the law, even if the website located in a foreign jurisdiction. The law will even apply to foreign-owned travel sites and blogs if their primary focus is Albania.
Justice Minister Etilda Gjonaj said the registration of portals would combat misinformation and fake news as well as “guaranteeing the independence of journalists and the pluralism of the media”. Addressing a press conference where the draft law was announced, she also said every European State required the registration of online media platforms. This is not the case.
The draft law has been approved by the Council of Ministers, but it is yet to be presented to parliament. It is expected to pass due to Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialist Party enjoying a parliamentary majority after the entire opposition resigned in February following allegations of Rama’s government rigging the 2017 general elections.
Alice Taylor is reporting from Tirana, Albania