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Copyright: Albanian Media Institute - Instituti Shqiptar i Medias, 2011
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Presentation and discussion with the AMA council of complaints
RoundtableThis month the Albanian Media Institute organized a series of workshops on access to information and local government, kicking off a new project that aims to improve transparency and accountability of local government and local public institutions through a more active role of local media and citizens, supported by Lëviz Albania. In this framework, three one-day workshops were organized in the cities of Pogradec on June 15, Lezha on June 21, and Kukes on June 24. Participants in the workshop included journalists from local media and correspondents for national media outlets. The participants became familiar with the rights they are entitled to official information by the law passed in September 2014 and how they could use it to the advantage of their work. The training included information on the main aspects of the FOIA law, the rights of citizens in applying for information on official documents, and the obligations of state authorities to respond. More specifically, the participants were instructed how to draft information request in the proper manner, in order to avoid direct refusal of official authorities to grant information on grounds of a poorly drafted or invalid request. The next step will be testing of the practices of local government in responding to requests for information, which will be an effort to measure the openness of local government, as well as identify the weak links and good practices in this aspect of governance. The workshops and testing exercise will continue in other districts, too.
Workshops on access to information with local media
Constitutional court rules in favor of removing ownership limitations for national broadcasters
The Constitutional Court issued a press release on May 13, stating that it had granted the request of the Association of Albanian Electronic Media to abolish media ownership limitations in place for the national commercial broadcasters. The request was brought before the Constitutional Court on April 19 by the Association of Electronic Media, which argued that the limitation imposed is not constitutional, as it affects equality before law and the right to property. The claim of the association was also supported by the representatives of the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA,) while representatives of the Parliament stated that the limitation was in place to protect freedom of expression, which must prevail in this case.

This development comes after attempts made last year by MP Balla, and later to some degree also supported by AMA, which sought to repeal the entire limitations on ownership of media shares, namely Article 62 of the Law on Audiovisual Media. After clear opposition from international bodies, the Parliamentary Commission on Media rejected the proposed amendment. The current court decision paves the way for licensing of the existing commercial platforms in their form, along with the national broadcasters that also own part of the platforms.
Roundtable discussion on religious extremism discourse in the media
EU AwardA roundtable on religious extremist discourse and the media was organized on June 29 in Tirana. The roundtable's aim was to present the main findings of a research on religious extremism discourse in the media, as well as discuss potential recommendations and suggestions for improving reporting on religion and avoiding extremism in the media. The roundtable started with a brief presentation of the research aim, methodology, and findings by Rrapo Zguri, author of the research. Some of the main points mentioned in this regard include the comparison of content between online and mainstream media, the prevalence of religious identity over national one in extremist content, the "alternative" reading of intra-religious tolerance by extremists, the spread of Salafism in Albania, the debate on the Caliphate in online media, the anti-Western discourse, etc. The second speaker was Besnik Mustafaj, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and currently chair of the Forum of Alliance of Civilizations, who offered his own review and reflections on the research and on the current trends in media in regard to religious extremism. He also offered specific recommendations based on the research findings to some bodies, such as the National Committee of Cults, the religious communities, the media, the security agencies, etc.

Other participants in the roundtable also discussed some of the main concerns in relation to rising spread of extremism and the role of the media in preventing such a phenomenon. Specific emphasis was put on the role of religious tolerance, a subject that recently has been debated in the press. While some speakers maintained that this is a reality that should be strengthened also in the media and something to emphasize, others promoted the view that the press should cover the debate in a way that both challenges and reinforces the notion of religious tolerance, in order to have an informed public debate. Something the representatives of religious communities suggested was a greater basic information and knowledge on religion, debating also the ideas on potential introduction on religions in the curricula. The research and roundtable were supported financially by the Office of Public Relations of the U.S. Embassy in Tirana.

Albanian Media Institute organized an event on June 30 that aimed to present the recently established Council of Complaints at the regulator, Audiovisual Media Authority, and to discuss its role, competencies, and challenges. Participants included journalists, media experts, representatives of academia and civil society. The three members of the Council of Complaints presented their mission, responsibilities, steps taken so far, and the plans for the future. The discussion with participants then followed on how to improve public profile of the Council of Complaints, how to raise awareness on their work and strengthen cooperation with the media outlets, and in general how to foster self-regulation in the media, rather than impose professional norms through legal regulation.

Some of the suggestions included establishing alliances with other groups and organizations, online publication and transparency of the complaints' procedure and respective decisions, identifying best practices, cooperating with the media to promote professionalism, ethics, and self-regulation in specific shows or debates, etc. The event was organized by Albanian Media Institute, as part of the advocacy component of the South East Europe Media Observatory project, funded by Open Society Foundation and EU.
Roundtable on implementation of FOIA by local government
KorcaA roundtable on implementation of FOIA by local government was organized in Korca on June 9. The main aim of the roundtable was to discuss the main findings of the testing exercise of FOIA implementation by local government. This exercise was conducted in several main cities in the country, in view of the recently passed law on access to information and the new structure and organization of local government in the country.

The participants included journalists, representatives of local government, and representatives of civil society. They presented their own experience in seeking or giving information, the main problems in this area, and discussed ways of improving the situation. The roundtable was organized by AMI, with the support of the US Embassy.