Media Law Roundup: May 10th

Welcome to this week’s Media Law Roundup, a summary of developing media law and policy news.

Ethiopian and South Sudanese Authorities Continue to Arrest Journalists as Rwanda Announces Commitment to a Free Media.

Late last week the Ethiopian Supreme Court decided to uphold an 18-year prison sentence for journalist Eskinder Nega. The reporter and opposition politician Andualem Arage were arrested and charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism laws, which many say are vague and used to silence any opposition to the current regime. Since 2011, eleven journalists have been arrested and convicted under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law. Nega and Arage are considering appealing to the court of cassation, who would review the interpretation of the anti-terrorism law.

South Sudanese journalists used World Press Freedom Day to voice concern about censorship through intimidation and arrests. A dozen journalists have been arrested since 2012 while one was murdered and two other fled the country. Many are concerned that they are returning to the repressive state the country experienced before Juba seceded in 2011. Several draft Media Bills have been passed back and forth between the executive and legislative branches since the first Bills were tabled by Parliament in 2009.

The Rwandan government decided to use World Press Freedom Day to announce their continuing commitment to journalism freedom. The Minister of Local Government James Musoni, whose office is responsible for overseeing the media in Rwanda, stated that the government wants to encourage free expression while supporting the advancement of media technology to allow Rwandans to connect with each other and the world. Several recent laws, including the Media law and the Access to Information law, protects and promotes journalistic freedom in the country.

German Neo-Nazi Trial Opens Amid Debate over Media Access

As the trial for neo-Nazi and member of the National Socialist Underground Beate Zschaepe opens in Germany this week, the proceedings have been overshadowed by stories about media access for foreign journalists in the European nation. The Munich Higher Regional Court distributed 50 press passes on a first come, first served basis, which made it nearly impossible for international news organizations to obtain a pass. Of the ten victims the National Socialist Underground murdered between 2000 and 2006, eight were Turkish and one was Greek.

In response to the proceedings, a Turkish newspaper sued and won an injunction which stated that at least three press passes must go to the countries of origin of the victims. The rest of the press passes were distributed by lottery, which led to an exclusion of a few of Germany’s largest newspapers from receiving a pass. The confusion over press access has made some question the court’s ability to handle the case with enough sensitivity.

FBI to Internet Providers: Spy for us or Face a $25,000 fine

A new proposal by the FBI would force Internet communication providers to be surveillance ready within 30 days of notice or face a $25,000 per day fine. Existing wiretap laws, which order “telecommunication carriers” to assist with intercepting communications,  are nearly 20 years old. The FCC initially expanded the act to include Internet communication providers; however, the law only said the providers needed to provide technical assistance, leaving a loophole for providers to claim they were unable to provide certain assistance. The new proposal would close that loophole and force internet communication companies to make sure they were compliant with the FBI’s requests. Compliance could also cost an internet company a significant amount of money, since they would be required to finance the upgrades.

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