Rights official expresses concern about Albanian media law

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — A top European human rights official on Tuesday expressed deep concern at plans by Albania’s government to pass a law that critics say would deal a strong blow to freedom of expression and media freedom.

A statement from Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the “anti-defamation package” expected to be passed by the Albanian Parliament on Wednesday needs “urgent improvement,” as several provisions are not compatible with international and European human rights standards on media freedom.

The law requires all online media to register, and gives powers to two public agencies to impose heavy fines on unregistered media.

Mijatovic urged Albanian lawmakers to bring the draft laws in line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and Council of Europe standards.

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The draft law has already been criticized by local and international journalist associations and also the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mijatovic also expressed concern about “discretionary powers” given to the regulatory bodies — Albania’s Electronic and Postal Communications Authority and the Audiovisual Media Authority — “to impose excessive fines and to block media websites without a court order, as well as the introduction of state regulation of online media.”

“It is of the utmost importance to ensure that the internet remains an open and public forum and that self-regulation by the media, including online media, prevails,” she said.

Albania’s journalists associations have planned a protest Wednesday when the parliament debates the draft law.

Albania’s post-communist media outlets have until now generally been used or exploited by the governing political party.

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