Netherlands Embassy in Tirana, Albania

Human Rights Online

By Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd

An Albanian Perspective on freedom of speech Following three preceding Global Conferences on Cyberspace (in London, Budapest and Seoul) in the Netherlands we took over the debate at the Global Conference on Cyberspace held in The Hague on 16-17th of April 2015. Representatives from governments, private sector and civil society gathered in order to promote practical cooperation in cyberspace, to enhance cyber space capacity building, and to discuss norms for responsible behaviours. Albania as well, was able to participate with three delegates.

The debate in the Conference was intense and as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Bert Koenders, mentioned in his closing speech; “If I would have to summarize, it would probably be: still confused, but on a higher level”. The cyberspace is confusing because it develops fast, faster than we as individuals are able to stop and think how to regulate it. However, as a basic principle, in the Netherlands we believe that human rights online are essential. Freedom and security in cyberspace should co-exist to the extent that we can enjoy both. Certainly, this is the new challenge for governments, IT experts, individual users and organizations.

The first step to find solutions to challenges is to discuss about them with all the stakeholders. In this context when thinking of Albania we organized a debate over a core value which is that of media freedom and freedom of expression in cyberspace. On 14th of April, in a modern and urban environment (Tulla Center) journalists, human rights activists, students, government representatives, researchers and expert met together to start an interesting debate on freedom of expression and its possible regulation. The old debate on whether the internet should be regulated with rules and regulations proposed by the Parliament or rather self-regulate by forms that users (online media owners, readers, journalists and even internet service providers) find more suitable is very relevant to online media in Albania. This debate sparkles particularly as the Parliament is discussing a draft law which aims to limit freedom of expression online in relation to offensive and unappropriated comments

The discussion was interesting in two main directions. Firstly, it showed how much the “social media” and online journalism” have to a large amount replaced classical media in Albania, while at the same time being completely different. Secondly, the debate reflected a common knowledge that many time we tend to forget the fact that while being different, online media reflect the same problems as media in general in the country. One cannot start by tackling the first and ignoring the fact that they reflect the problems media here in general have. In this perspective a quote from Mr. Lutfi Dervishi, a well-known journalist in Albania, during the debate is descriptive; “Freedom online goes hand in hand with freedom offline”. He is rightly implying that we are looking for free and professional journalism online at a time that we lack it offline.

Yet, cyberspace may be an incredible opportunity for young and talented journalists in Albania. This is precisely because they can overcome the obstacles they usually face, while freely reporting and investigating in regular print. Encouraging examples already exists, though small in number. We believe that investigative journalism, together with independent and professional reporting, should be enhanced. Cyberspace may trick us with quantity, but quality matters as much. While access to internet is to be provided all over the country (and that is not always the case) content and quality should prevail as much.

Cyberspace should be a dimension of thought, discussion and exchange of views. It is an incredible opportunity. When made good use of, it should be able to produce not only a large amount of information, but rather serve as the necessary food for thought in a democratic society. Thus we look very much forward to the stakeholders to follow up on our first roundtable. Let’s create a good tradition of debate in this perspective.
Some argue that our new tools of communication are not an improvement but rather a challenge we should cope with. Either way, we tend to be optimistic and want to explore opportunities, while at the same time critically discuss  how to find solutions to challenges. 

See also