The OSCE has criticized the Albanian government over recent changes to the law on audiovisual media and electronic communications.

In a letter directed to Prime Minister Edi Rama, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, says that new provisions, especially those for online media and the powers of the Audiovisual Media Authority, may restrict freedom of expression, and conflict with international standards.

“I note that there have been important improvements compared to the drafts prepared earlier in the year.

“The last version of the draft Law on Audiovisual Media incorporates new provisions, which better and more precisely define the object and scope of the law, and mentions the need for the Audio-visual Media Authority (AMA) to respect international and regional standards when adopting its decisions.

“It is positive that the problematic provisions regarding domain name registration and blocking of online content have been removed, and that the proposal includes a specific adaptation of the right to reply to the new environment of electronic publications,” Désir said.

The Representative acknowledged that the draft does not confer competence to the AMA Compliance Committee with regards to the respect for moral, ethical or professional norms for electronic publication service providers.

In his letter to the Prime Minister of Albania, Désir pointed to several remaining issues that still need to be addressed, which he recommends to amend in the legislative process.

The legal review proposes, in particular, to modify article 132/1 giving the AMA the power to oblige electronic publication service providers to publish an apology, remove content or insert a pop-up notice in cases of violations of provisions, in particular in the new article 33/1.

This is because this article makes reference to the “respect of privacy and dignity of citizens”. Such broad, vague language gives the AMA extensive power that has the potential to seriously hinder freedom of expression.

Ten Albanian media organizations, journalists and also human rights organizations issued a critical statement regarding Prime Minister Edi Rama's initiative, calling the draft laws a censorship instrument and demanding immediate withdrawal.

The draft law remains pending for parliamentary review.