Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 19, 2019 20:04

Editorial: Media regulation or strangling free speech

TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

Despite a very strong opposition by all the media sector in the country, by more than 30 media and human rights organizations worldwide and in spite of substantial criticism from international organizations such as Council of Europe, OSCE and even the European Commission, the Albanian majority was set to approve two laws that will deeply affect freedom of media and freedom of expression in the country.

These laws that are best described as draconian by relevant experts will increase disproportionately the controlling powers and the overall influence of two government regulatory agencies:  AMA (Media Supervisory Authority) and AKEP (Telecommunication and Postal Authority). Both these agencies will assume juridical powers, shadowing the role of courts in disputes about fake news and defamations and will have the right to impose very hefty fines on media channels and portals or even close them temporarily.

This struggle to discipline the media market and fight fake news has been a long one with many setbacks for the current majority. It has always faced strong internal and external opposition. Empowered by the irresponsible behavior of certain media the majority however pushed forward this week doing its best to fuel a populist hatred in the public towards media much in the style of other authoritarian leaders who find it easy to blame everything on the messenger.

The need to have some sort of control mechanisms on media that might spread hate speech or false alarms or even defamatory rhetoric on individuals is real and global. Different mechanisms are applied in different states. However he present action of the majority has the traits of an endeavor to limit free expression and put in place a controlling and intimidating environment that will strengthen self-censorship and propaganda in reporting.

The process through which these legislative measures were put on the decisions makers’ agenda was characterized by an aggressive verbal confrontation between stakeholders.  The extreme obsession to get this through despite all the criticism put forward by serious international institutions is baffling at best. Usually adapting a careful approach claiming that they are always on the international partners’ side this time the majority finds itself at odds with the international community.

And let us not forget that these laws are being discussed and passed when there is still the numbing vacuum of the constitutional court which under normal conditions would strike them both down immediately for violating key constitutional principles of both free expression and for the separation of powers.

Therefore it becomes clear that the main objective of the so called “censorship package” is not the regulation of the media sector and the fight against fake news. It resembles much more a heavy handed approach to get the fourth power under control, no matter how absurd this sounds in the current circumstances.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 19, 2019 20:04