Media Law Roundup: October 30, 2015

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a weekly digest of developing media news stories from around the world. This week’s issue covers the EU net neutrality ruling, Myanmar’s media council, Turkish media protests, and more.

Turkish Opposition Television Battles Government Forces

This week, Turkey’s Public Prosecutors office announced that it will appoint a trustee to manage Koza Ipek Holding, a media outlet known for putting out content critical of the Turkish government. Following a demand by the 5th Ankara Criminal Court of Peace, the appointed government official will replace the existing Koza board of directors, effectively seizing control of the station and its content.  The move, which has been slammed by opposition politicians, comes before Turkey’s snap elections on November 1. Republican People’s Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy Barış Yarkadaş says the decision “is arbitrary, null, void and illegitimate.” Two days after the announcement, Turkish police raided the Istanbul headquarters of Bugun TV, a station owned by Koza Ipek in the early hours of the morning. Met outside by groups of protesters, police used forcible means to enter the station, which managed to remain on-air until 5 pm on Wednesday, October 28. Turkey’s ruling government has labeled the company a terrorist organization, implying that it is using content to undermine and destabilize the state. Hundreds of people gathered in Istanbul in protest on Wednesday against this most recent government crackdown.


European Parliament Rejects Net Neutrality Amendments

On October 27, the European Parliament voted against a set of rules meant to safeguard net neutrality in the European Union, the BBC reports. Included in the vote were a series of amendments to existing legislation on how internet traffic is managed. The existing legislation, which, unlike the amendments, was not voted down, will now be developed into a set of regulations. Proponents of net neutrality were quick to criticize the vote, saying that the existing rules are too ambiguous and may leave open the possibility for abuse of power by regulators. Although they were voted against with an overwhelming majority, the vote to deny the amendments was not unanimous. Michael Theurer, a German MEP, described the outcome as “regrettable,” and worries that “the regulations as passed do not include a clear definition of net neutrality to inform regulators.”  Attention turns now to EU countries such as the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Finland, which already have special net neutrality protections in place. Critics of the vote worry internet laws in these countries will be largely affected. Along with a group of vocal individual supporters, large firms including Netflix, Reddit, and Vimeo, have also openly supported the amendments. Experts on the matter are hesitant to pick a side, concluding that issues of net neutrality affect everyone involved and it is a “complex problem without any right answers.”


CPJ Calls for Release of Journalists Detained in Egypt

In a public statement this week, the international watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on three arrests of journalists by the Egyptian government between October 20 and October 25.  Mahmoud Mostafa Saad, Hisham Jaafar, and Hussam el-Sayed have all been arrested within country limits this week with no charges named against them and no location disclosed. The CPJ has officially called on Egyptian authorities to “disclose the reasons for the journalists’ arrests and release them immediately.” On Sunday, Egypt’s journalists’ syndicate filed a report implying that the interior ministry is behind the disappearance of Mahmoud Mostafa Saad. Saad, a journalist working for Al-Nahar TV channel, was detained without reason while flying into Cairo airport on a student visa. Khaled el-Balshy, a prominent journalist and member of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, was arrested under similar circumstances, without location of his holding released. Two days later, Hisham Jaafar, director of the Mada Foundation for Media Development was arrested when masked security forces raided his office in a Cairo suburb.  According to the CPJ, on October 25, Jaafar’s lawyers learned that he was being held at Tora prison and had been interrogated by National Security prosecutors. The arrests add to a list of hundreds of journalists and media rights activists who have been kidnapped in Egypt in the past few months in what are called ‘forced disappearances.’


Swedish Media Group Sells Services to Comply with Russia’s Media Law

This week, Swedish media company Modern Times Group announced that it has sold its Russian and international pay television businesses to comply with a new law restricting ownership of Russian media by foreigners, the Moscow Times reports. The decision to sell was prompted by a Russian law passed in 2014 and follows a similar move by Modern Times in September wherein the company sold its stake in CTC Media, Russia’s largest non-state broadcaster. The law, which goes into effect January 1, 2016, will prohibit foreigners from owning more than 20% of Russian media companies. The Modern Times sold its Russian pay television business, called Viasat, to Russian company Sinerdzhi and its international pay television business to Sabiero Holdings Limited, a subsidiary of international private equity firm Baring Vostock. Modern Times CEO Jorgen Madsen Lindemann says the company considered all possible options before selling, but felt this would produce the most favorable outcome for company stakeholders. Viasat includes four cable and satellite channels in Russia, with a daily viewership reaching 5.54 million people in 2015.


Mobile Networks Shut Down in Pakistan

On October 23 and 24, the Pakistan Ministry of Interior ordered telecom companies to suspend cellular services as part of security measure for Ashura. According to local media reports, the shutdown affected text and call services but not landlines or fixed broadband connections. The ban comes during the month of Muharram, a time historically known to create sectarian tensions in the country. The Pakistani government has reasoned that a complete mobile blackout might prevent the recurrence of past attempts by extremists to detonate bombs via mobile phones. Shutdowns of this kind are not uncommon in Pakistan and have come under harsh criticism by experts in the field, most notably by Pakistan-based research group Bytes for All. A recent by Bytes for All Pakistan and the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), points to the harmful effects of shutdowns that occur when users cannot access emergency services. Despite adverse reactions, the government of Pakistan upheld a complete shutdown on October 23, with limited service regained on October 24 and full service on October 25.


Myanmar Elects First Permanent Media Council

On October 26, the Myanmar government approved a collection of elected and appointed members to represent and guide the country’s media laws and interests. The new council will replace an interim press council, which itself replaced a censorship board. Past councils were criticized for having too large a stake in government interests, an issue remedied in part by the new media council’s appointment system. Of the 29 stipulated seats, 12 were appointed by a collection of media groups including the Myanmar Journalist Association and Burma News International, and 17 spots were open to a public vote. After the election however, five council seats remain unfilled because not enough nominations were received. Even though some seats remain empty, the inchoate council has been quick to make plans for future legislation, including legislation which would alter the very law that elected the new members. According to the media law, the council must obtain its budget through the Ministry of Information. The council’s new chair, U Khin Maung Law, however, intends to establish a foundation so future councils can be independently funded through grants.


China Tops 2015 Internet Freedom Offenders List

Voice of America this week reported on the 2015 Freedom on the Net Report, the latest issue of an annual report by Freedom House surveying online censorship and freedoms in 65 countries. According to the report, China is at the top of the offenders list, regularly arresting and detaining online activists and opposition writers. In addition to censorship and filters, the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has blocked many popular social media sites in China such as Facebook and Twitter. Although many Chinese netizens attempt to circumvent these bans, those caught doing so risk substantial jail time. Individuals are not the only ones facing online harassment from the government; the report revealed that governments are increasingly attacking companies whose servers contain banned content. The government has threatened to take away companies’ licenses or forbid them from operating in China. Not far behind China on the censorship index are Iran and Syria, which are both known for detaining journalists and bloggers who post anything considered critical of the government. Iran, despite better bandwidth and 3G cellular connections than many countries on the list, continues to exert extremely tight control over the internet.


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