I am very pleased to be among you today in Europe House, our House, for such a long-awaited initiative as this new mechanism for media self-regulation launched by the Media Council and supported by our EU funded regional project implemented by UNESCO.
The presence of so many of you today and the fact that you are jointly relaunching the discussion around self-regulation is very much welcome by the EU. It is a strong signal. There are many journalists in Albania who care about professionalism, about good and independent journalism and about freedom of speech.
For years, in our country reports and our dialogue with the authorities, we have highlighted the many critical issues related to freedom of expression in Albania: political and economic pressure, media concentration; lack of ownership and funding transparency; precarious nature of journalists contracts; irresponsible reporting; misuse of internet freedom and freedom of speech; work for vested interests instead of the public interest.
To assist Albania and its media in tackling these shortcomings, the EU has invested on labour rights of Albanian journalists, supporting capacity-building initiatives of journalist associations in protecting and promoting journalists’ rights.
We work hand in hand with our colleague of the Council of Europe in our joint programme on Freedom of Expression and Media – JUFREX. This programme aims at helping the judiciary understand and apply case-law in the field of freedom of expression. The role of the courts is central to support a self-regulation approach.
We are 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 in cooperation with the OSCE.
In the next couple of weeks, we will announce the winners of our call for proposals for grants to media organisations – the largest ever for this purpose, for an amount of 750.000 € - to support independent investigative programmes and enhance fact-based reporting.
Finally, at the regional level, the European Commission is supporting the UNESCO project "Building trust in Media in South-East Europe and Turkey ", which support media self-regulation and media accountability in the region. I would like to thank UNESCO and Mrs Hulin for their instrumental role in supporting the Media Council and bringing this self-regulation mechanism together.
As you know, as a solution to many of the issues related to the Albanian media, the European Commission and the EU Delegation here have consistently advised self-regulation. It is the best means to promote quality information, tackling disinformation and defamation, safeguarding editorial freedom and strengthening media credibility.
Self-regulation provides people with a platform to defend their rights for accurate and timely information, thus creating the bases for democracy and free society.
Self-regulation is also the way for journalists to gain ownership of their professional standards by themselves, without the involvement of governments, business, political parties, or any other influence.
In that regard, today's initiative comes timely, while the parliament is waiting for the opinion of Venice Commission ahead of its vote on the so-called anti-defamation package.
As you all know, we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about the on-going Government legal initiatives to amend media services legislation. The EU has asked for this initiative to address the recommendations of the Council of Europe and, in general, to be fully aligned with European and international standards in the area of freedom of expression and media freedom. This still needs to be ensured.
Last time I met some of you and expressed our position, I also asked media organisations not only to say no, but to make credible proposals to tackle the lack of standards and the issue of defamation and anonymous slander that do exist in Albania.
What we are witnessing today is exactly the right direction. I would like to congratulate the Media Council for the initiative to enact the self-regulation mechanism. I encourage as many media actors possible to respect the Code of Ethics and the document you are signing today.
I also wish the Media Council's new board, for which all of us have great expectations, every success in helping the independence and freedom of the media to flourish further in Albania.