Ladies and gentlemen,
It's a pleasure to come back to this Forum and see so many of you around the table. It is essential that we keep the discussion going on media freedom and media developments, with the most concerned: the media community.
Earlier this year, some of you and many colleagues from the region, attended the Western Balkans Media Days.
The message coming out of that meeting was loud and clear: disappointment from the Western Balkans media community regarding the lack of sufficient progress on legal, political & economic conditions to exercise freedom of expression.
We also took good note of the need to enforce the rule of law in the media sector, especially on working conditions and contracts of journalists, and to put an end to political interference and lack of transparency.
I subscribe fully to the words of our Director, Veva Ruiz Calavera, when she replied: "We hear you. We care about you. We will continue working together."
In Albania, I am proud that the EU Delegation has heard this call and has massively increased its engagement with the media community. I would like to update you on our support to freedom of expression and media freedom today:
Together with the Council of Europe we have launched the second phase of our joint programme on Freedom of Expression and Media – JUFREX - where we help the judiciary understand and apply case-law in the field of freedom of expression. The project also supports media regulatory authorities enhancing their independence and the national police on the protection of journalists.
We are also funding an important programme to support the public broadcaster to produce quality content and the journalism department of the University of Tirana to prepare a new generation of Albanian journalists. This is implemented by the OSCE.
Let me thank both the Council of Europe and the OSCE for their close partnership with the European Union and for our really excellent cooperation here in Albania to support media freedom. Thank you, dear colleagues.
Our financial assistance is also tackling the issue of labour rights of Albanian journalists, supporting innovative and capacity-building initiatives of journalist associations in protecting and promoting journalists’ rights.
With the aim of supporting independent investigative journalism, we have launched a call for proposals for grants to media organisations to enhance independent and fact-based reporting. With 750.000 euros, this is the largest ever grant to be provided for that purpose in Albania. The ball is now in your camp to propose innovative ideas.
There will be considerable additional support to independent production next year as well as to media literacy.
Only a couple of years ago, the EU did not provide any financial assistance to media organisations in this country. At the time, the media community had tough words of disappointment and of higher expectations towards us, which we heard. There is no doubt whatsoever today that we are fully by the side of Albanian journalists and media organisations.
Of course, stepping up our financial assistance is only one side of the coin. The other side is to closely follow the political situation where corrective efforts and positive policy actions are needed.
This brings me to the on-going Government legal initiatives to amend media services legislation. The EU has asked for these initiatives to be fully aligned with EC’s Audio-visual Media Services and e-Commerce directives. The new versions have addressed our concerns in this regard.
However, this is not enough. Full compliance of the draft amendments with freedom of expression standards and with the Commission’s policy on addressing disinformation 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. We consider that this may lead to adverse effect on freedom of expression.
When it comes to tackling disinformation, the European Commission recommends approaches that are less severe, based on a self-regulation approach, which empowers users and journalists first.
I have said it before and I would like to repeat it here: Fake news is bad, disinformation is bad. There is no ambiguity here. However they need to be addressed in full respect of the principle of freedom of expression, hand-in-hand with the media community, which expects to be further consulted on the draft amendments.
We have a common interest: a society that is well informed by media that are both free and responsible. And our support has only one overarching simple goal: provide space for good journalism to flourish. This can only be achieved in close cooperation and sustained consultation with you, the media community. We now expect the new draft of the legislation to go in this direction.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude by reminding everyone that tomorrow, 2 November, is a crucial day for the journalist community, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
There have been threats towards journalists recently in Albania. This is unacceptable. As it is the harsh rhetoric used sometimes by political actors.
I subscribe to every single word that the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said when announcing the occasion: "On this day, we pay tribute to journalists who do their jobs despite intimidation and threats. Their work reminds us that truth never dies. Neither must our commitment to the fundamental right to freedom of expression".