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Albanian lawmakers pass fake news laws over media protests

December 18, 2019 GMT

TIRANA, Albania (AP) —

Lawmakers in Albania passed an “anti-defamation package” Wednesday that authorizes heavy fines on online media and gives additional powers to government media regulators despite a protest by journalists and warnings from international organizations.

Fifteen journalists’ and civil society organizations had urged the Albanian Parliament to reject the government-backed legislation, saying it would “threaten freedom of expression and freedom of the media in the country, and fall contrary to the international principles.”

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the two new laws, aiming at fighting false news reports, were completely in line with international standards.

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“We aim at setting standards so that the human rights are respected,” Rama said, adding that the government closely worked with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in drafting the measures.

Harlem Desir, the OSCE’s media freedom representative, said there was still work to be done to reduce the size of possible fines for publishing allegedly fake news. The approved legislation allows for fines of up to 16,000 euros ($17,900.)

Desir said his office planned to “monitor closely the application of the law which must, in no way, impede freedom of expression and media freedom,” Desir said.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic and the European Union office in Tirana also urged Albanian lawmakers to amend the legislation to follow European norms.

Bowing to the pressure, the government amended some provisions that were in the original draft, including ones requiring registration of online media.

Albania’s post-communist media outlets have generally been used or exploited by the governing political party.