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Dear media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
We are here today to lend the European Union's strong support to media freedom and investigative journalism in Albania. We are also here to celebrate the achievements of talented and dedicated reporters. Quite simply, I see this gathering in Europe House as a celebration of good journalism.
In the Western Balkans and more specifically in Albania, the EU considers freedom of expression and freedom of the media as benchmarks for democracy, good governance and political accountability. Aspiring to become a Member State of the European Union implies that these two key pillars are well established and respected.
Some key features define what good investigative journalism is: a sense of duty in revealing wrongdoings and the sense of responsibility in reporting facts thoroughly and independently. The role of investigative journalists is vital and their contribution towards a free yet accountable society is invaluable.
Over the past decade, media freedom indexes show that free speech has been declining globally and support for it is weakening even in mature democracies. The emergence of fake news and disinformation clearly undermines quality journalism.
Today, only two days ahead of the EU-WB Media Days in Podgorica, is also an occasion to reflect about the challenges and threats to freedom of expression and freedom of the media. On the one hand, on a global scale, there is the increasing manipulation of the information space via fake news and disinformation, and on the other, especially in Albania, the working conditions of journalists in the context of a highly concentrated media ownership are such that undeniably lead to self-censorship.
The EU is already strengthening the capacities of Albanian media organisations in promoting ethics and professional standards. We are also supporting the Albanian public broadcaster and the school of journalism to prepare the new generation of Albanian reporters. With the aim of supporting independent investigative journalism we are about to launch a new programme that offers the possibility to enhance the culture of independent and fact-based reporting in Albania.
Fake news and disinformation corrode the public trust in journalism and in the public institutions, which in turn prevents the whole society to move forward.
At the same time, it is important to understand how to address disinformation while respecting the principle of freedom of expression.
This brings me to my other important point: as you very well know, in Albania there are on-going Government legal initiatives to amend media services legislation.
The European Commission had initially asked for these initiatives to be fully aligned with EU’s Audio-visual Media Services and e-Commerce directives. Although, the major previous concerns related to the EU acquis appear to have been addressed, full compliance of the draft amendments with freedom of expression standards still needs to be ensured.
The European Commission shares the concerns of other international organisations, related to the lack of legal certainty and to the widening of the scope of competence of the Audiovisual Media Authority to include online media regulation – as this may lead to adverse effect on freedom of expression.
When it comes to tackling disinformation, while we share the Albanian authorities’ concerns with regard to disinformation, the Commission recommends approaches that are less severe, based on a self-regulation approach. This is the approach that the European Commission proposes in its Communication on Tackling Online Disinformation'.
We consider that European and international standards in the area of freedom of expression and media freedom are key for the development of strong and pluralistic media, and should be taken into full account by the Albanian authorities.
We also encourage the Albanian authorities to pursue the consultation process with the media community on the draft amendments, while taking into account the expertise of the international actors, thus ensuring a future positive impact of the legislative package on freedom of expression in Albania.
This is what our EU Investigative Journalism Awards aim to celebrate today by promoting your outstanding achievements as investigative journalists as well as by contributing in showcasing quality journalism in this part of Europe.
I count on you keeping up the good work and I thank you very much for your time.