Western Balkans call for EU help on media freedom situation in Albania

“Albania cannot wait any longer for the two neighbours to resolve their quarrel. Our course in that direction will fully change,” Rama said on Thursday in Tirana. [EPA-EFE/VALDRIN XHEMAJ]

Six Western Balkan journalism associations, representing more than 8200 journalists, have written to EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, the European Federation of Journalists, and the European Broadcasting Union regarding the current media freedom situation in Albania.

Under the umbrella of the SafeJournalist Network, they raised two key issues and asked for reactions, support, and assistance in safeguarding freedom of expression and media freedom, as per the Copenhagen criteria, integral parts of the country’s EU accession criteria.

“Albania must ensure that European standards of freedom of expression and media are upheld,”  read the letter, signed by the BH Journalists Association, Trade Union of Media of Montenegro, Croatian Journalists Association, Association of Journalists of Kosovo, Association of Journalists of Macedonia, and Independent Journalists Association of Serbia.

The first concern related to the delayed election of the Director-General of the Public Service Broadcaster, (Radio Televizioni Shqiptar- RTSH) for over seven months.

“We express our concern that there is no substantial justification for the delay in electing a new Director-General, whose role is crucial for the performance of the RTSH as the only public service media in Albania,” the letter said.

The organisations raised concerns over proposals from the transitional director to change the organisational structure beyond his mandate. This,  they said,  could lead to potential abuse of  power, which could “impact overall media freedom in Albania.”

The second issue raised is the creation of a new Agency for Media Media and Information that will centralise all government communication, monitor the media and public opinion, and be led by Prime Minister Edi Rama’s spokesperson.

In the letter, Safe Journalists voiced concerns that this will close the door to journalists, especially investigative or critical ones, hindering media freedom further.

These issues have been raised in the context of a piece of legislation that is currently pending in parliament. The “anti-defamation package” is a set of provisions that would bring all online media under the direct supervision of the government-appointed Audiovisual Media Authority.

The entity would have the power to levy significant fines, order retractions,  and enforce popups against any media it deems has violated rules on fake news and defamation. Albanian parliament recently appointed Rama’s ex-communications chief to oversee the board, despite calls from the EU delegation in Tirana and media organisations to ensure the entity remains independent.

The “anti-defamation package”  was voted by parliament and then vetoed by the country’s President Ilir Meta. Now back in parliament, it requires a simple majority vote to become law.

(Alice Taylor | exit.al)

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