By Gjergj Erebara
19 Oct 18
A government move ordering media websites to register with the tax authority as part of an alleged ‘anti-defamation drive’ was criticized on Thursday by the OSCE’s Freedom of the Media Representative and by the organisation Civil Rights Defenders.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, on Thursday criticized Albania’s threat to close 44 websites as a potentially restrictive move against the independent media.
“States should not impose mandatory registration to online media as a precondition for their work, which can have a very negative effect on media freedom,” Désir said in a press release.
“This practice, when applied, could seriously restrict public access to diverse sources of information, the plurality of voices, and erode the right of freedom of expression and information online,” he added.
Civil Rights Defenders, an international human rights organization, also criticized the government move as “a decision that seriously violates the freedom of speech and increases the government intervention against a small number of outlets that are still free.
“On the list of threatened websites are some of the only independent investigative media in the country, which are fully transparent about who they belong to,” said Vasilika Laçi, Programme Director at Civil Rights Defenders.
Prime Minister Edi Rama in a tweet post last week said websites needed to register with the tax authority as the start of an “anti-defamation campaign”, adding that he wanted to “legalize portals”.
On Monday, the nominally independent Communications Authority published a list of 44 pages that risked closure if they do not register with the tax authorities and publish their tax number online, and gave them a 72-hour deadline to do so.
Most of the websites on the list say they are properly registered as businesses or as NGOs. Some of the websites are not based in Albania but belong to Albanian language publishers from Kosovo, Macedonia or other countries.
The BIRN Albania outlet Reporter.al is also on the list. BIRN said the threat was illegal and, as such, it would not abide by it.
The Albanian Electronic and Postal Communication Authority, AKEP, is nominally an independent body, but its head, Ilir Zela, is also a ruling Socialist Party official and a former MP.
He has not explained how the list of websites was compiled or how he verified their tax status before the publication of the list. OSCE emphasised that it had asked the government for a proper explanation about this.
On Thursday, after the 72-hour deadline expired, none of the “blacklisted” websites was blocked. In a press release, AKEP claimed that most of them “had complied” with the request, continuing to threaten the rest with closure.