Rights official expresses concern about Albanian media law

A top European human rights official has expressed deep concern over the Albanian government's push for a law that critics say would undermine free expression and media freedom in the small Balkan country

TIRANA, Albania -- A top European human rights official expressed deep concern Tuesday over the Albanian government's push for a law that critics say would undermine free expression and media freedom in the small Balkan country.

An “anti-defamation package” expected to be passed by the Albanian Parliament on Wednesday would require all online news outlets to register with the government and authorizes heavy fines on unregistered media.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said the proposed package needs “urgent improvement” as several provisions are incompatible with international press freedom standards. Mijatovic urged Albanian lawmakers to amend the legislation in line with European norm.

She expressed concern about “discretionary powers” the new laws would give to two 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."

“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.

The pending bills also have been criticized by Albanian and international journalist associations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Journalist groups plan to protest Wednesday when Parliament debates the draft law.

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