'OSCE Seriously Concerned about Media Freedom'
By Bernd Borchardt
Albanian Daily News
Published February 24, 2017

Head of Presence of OSCE, Bernd Borchardt, remarks at Parliamentary Seminar on freedom of expression in the media:

"It is a pleasure to be here today, to discuss Freedom of Expression in the Media just ahead of parliamentary elections this year. Albania has an open and free media market. This pluralism provided the oxygen for democratic processes after the 1990's changes and supported the country's development as well as the public's right to know. Recently, we are witnessing new challenges and threats to freedom of media at local and global level.

I will concentrate in particular on election-related challenges in Albania.

During election times, free, independent, unbiased and professional reporting is a precondition for people to define their views and to ensure democratic processes are respected. We can never emphasize enough how important freedom of expression is.

The new electronic era has developed faster than any regulator could legislate and faster than any society has been able to debate. A well balanced and mature discussion among all actors is needed on the new media, social networks, privacy, security, and content. We all know about fake news. Yet, keeping the internet safe, open and free remains a core OSCE value. We are thankful for having been invited to comment on the draft amendments to the E-Commerce Law, leading to further improvement of the draft amendments. The government and the parliament can of course count on our further assistance on this matter.

Unfortunately, there is an idea around to impose the obligation of monitoring, registration and even online news portals' banning. The OSCE is seriously concerned about this development, as it can easily work against the freedom of the media.

We are also concerned about some provisions that oblige private media to air "party tapes". The ODIHR has been clear about this twice already. The 2013 and 2015 recommendations clearly stated that these kind of tapes should only be aired within clearly labelled political marketing programs and naming the source of the material. The public has the right to know what they are watching and where it comes from. In democracies, there is not enough replacement for genuine and independent media reporting. In this regard, ODIHR recommendations are clear:  abolish the obligation for media to air "air party tapes" in news programmes. 

The digitalisation process, which started as early as 2004 without a clearly defined regulatory framework, and has suffered from a dis-functional broadcast regulator in the past, perceived political influence, and lack of trust in the credibility of the process. Court decisions de facto abolished the Media Law provision limiting concentration in media ownership. Another court ruling, decided about the allocation of licences from the national broadcast regulator. In an atmosphere of complaints and accusations combined with several pending court cases, we find it extremely important that the final stage of the digitalisation does not exclude any of the existing broadcasters from reporting this year's elections, and if this cannot be ensured, then it is better to wait and implement the final switchover later on this year, after elections.

The OSCE Presence stands ready to cooperate on all these issues promoting freedom of expression in the media and assist Albania in implementing ODIHR recommendations; we should all contribute for free and fair elections in full compliance with international standards".

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