18 june, 2018 / By Interfax-Ukraine, kyivpost.com
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir has criticized amendments to the law on media adopted by the Belarusian parliament last week.
“The adoption of these amendments sends a worrying signal about media freedom and pluralism,” Desir said in a statement published on the OSCE’s website.
“I call on the Belarusian authorities to carefully review the law and bring it in line with international standards and OSCE commitments on freedom of expression and freedom of the media,” he said.
“Many of the provisions are excessive and disproportionate and could result in the curtailing of freedom of expression,” Desir said. In particular, one of them is continuing prohibition for foreign journalists to work without accreditation with the Foreign Ministry, he said.
Provisions regarding the restrictions on media established by foreign citizens are also among those amendments, which caused Desir’s criticism. In addition, amendments to the law give the Information Ministry excessive control over all Internet resources, he said. “No ministry should have the exclusive power to block access to any online resource without a court decision. Content removal should require judicial oversight,” Desir said.
Internet media’s responsibility for content is also excessive, he said. The owners of online resources now have to “analyze” all content “as the law demands that they are responsible for preventing dissemination of untruthful information that may harm state or public interest, or defame individuals or legal entities,” he said. “They are also liable if their resources are used to disseminate information or comments by internet users who have not gone through prior identification, as defined by the state,” the OSCE representative said.
Concerns expressed by the Belarusian Union of Journalists as a non-governmental media organization were not taken into account during the drafting of the law, he said.
As reported, on June 14, the Belarusian National Assembly’s House of Representatives adopted amendments to legislation on mass media in the second reading. “The adoption of the bill will facilitate the efficient provision of information security and the enforcement of citizens’ constitutional right to receive full, accurate, and timely information,” Valentina Razhanets, the deputy chair of the Commission for Human Rights, Ethnic Relations, and Media, said while presenting the bill.
Amendments were introduced to the documents and concerned parties’ suggestions were taken into account before the second reading, she said.
The bill was criticized by the Belarusian Association of Journalists and independent media outlets, which voiced concerns that it could tighten state control over the country’s media.
The provision envisaging voluntary registration of Internet resources as outlets with the introduction of the term “online media outlet” elicited criticism. They and their employees would be given the rights of traditional outlets, though not in full. Other websites would still be able to operate but without the status of media.
If an Internet resource failed to register, it would be unable to seek accreditation for its reporters with government bodies and other organizations.
In addition, the bill envisages introducing mandatory identification of people who post material online – not only on news websites but also on forums and elsewhere.