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Press freedom advocates in 2006 continued to urge the government to decriminalize defamation, which could incur a maximum sentence of two years in prison under existing statutes.Although the parliament failed to act on draft amendments introduced in 2005, Prime Minister Sali Berisha in October of that year ordered government officials to use the right of reply rather than civil or criminal defamation suits to address perceived bias or inaccuracy in the media. The prospects for legal reform improved in June, when Albania signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union.In September, an investigative television show aired recorded conversations in which a government official appeared to pressure two nephews of President Alfred Moisiu to convince their uncle to fire the attorney general, whom Berisha has accused of corruption in a politically charged standoff.Albania has 66 private television stations, at least 45 private radio stations, and roughly 200 print publications in circulation.Religious conservatives also targeted the progressive Tolo TV, which had been criticized by clerics for airing programs that "oppose Islam and national values." In May, a popular female television presenter who had worked at Tolo was murdered, possibly by family members who did not approve job, and other program hosts received threats or were forced off the air, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.Although registration requirements remain in place, authorities have granted more than 250 publications licenses, and several dozen private radio stations and eight television stations are now broadcasting, with the expansion of independent print and broadcast outlets continuing in 2005.The pact, which capped more than two years of negotiations, was considered a key milestone on the path to EU membership, and EU officials said media freedom would be among their priorities as they pressed Albania to make additional structural improvements.The countrys parliament-appointed broadcast regulator, the National Council of Radio and Television (NCRT), continued to face accusations of political influence and incompetence.

The laws were amended in 2001 to criminalize defamation of the president, the parliament, the judiciary, and the military.

However, it retains broad restrictions on content that is "contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects" and "matters leading to dishonoring and defaming individuals." The legislation also establishes a government-appointed commission with the power to decide if journalists who contravene the law should face court prosecutions or fines.

Critics of the law have alleged that its prohibition of "anti-Islamic" writings is overly vague and has led to considerable confusion within the journalistic community on what constitutes permissible content.

However, Berisha and Tirana Mayor Edi Rama, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, agreed in August to add two opposition appointees to the councils membership.

The plan came as part of a deal allowing municipal elections to proceed in early 2007.

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