Weekly Media Law Roundup: May 17th

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

White House pushes media shield law as Holder faces questions on Capitol Hill

This week, Sen. Charles Schumer reintroduced a bill that would protect US journalists from revealing confidential sources. The Free Flow of Information Act would allow journalists to keep their sources hidden unless all other avenues are exhausted in an investigation and exposing the source is in the public interest. The bill, first drafted in 2009, protects a journalist’s sources as long as the benefit to the public outweighs the need to identify the government source. In some cases, this would include national security information.

The reintroduction of the Free Flow of Information Act comes at a time when the White House and Attorney General Eric Holder are under scrutiny for secretly obtaining phone records from the Associated Press. Holder defended the subpoena for the phone records of several AP journalists responding in Wednesday’s hearing that the subpoenas were used to investigate a leak that could “put the American people at risk.

Discussion of Online Media Regulation in Nepal

As online media continues to grow in Nepal, The Ministry of Information and Communication has formed a five person committee composed of members of the media and government officials to investigate the best way to register, regulate, and manage online news. Journalists in the country are often confused about whether the Press Council for Nepal or the Ministry of Information and Communication is responsible for registering and regulating online news, and they hope new laws governing online media will help organize and grow the online news sector.

Lebanese Draft Media Law Debates Licensing System

The Lebanese parliament’s Media and Telecommunications Committee continues to review the draft media law as many debate the possible elimination of the long standing newspaper license system in the country. The current system has been in place since the Law of Publication was passed in 1962. President of the Lebanese Press Federation Mohammad Baalbaki has said the elimination of licenses would “do away with the Lebanese Press” since anyone would be allowed to start a newspaper with none of the oversight the licensure process ensures.

Newspaper licenses in Lebanon are divided between “political” and “nonpolitical” newspapers. Licenses for political newspapers are much harder to obtain since most of them have been purchased by large media organizations. Proponents of the elimination of newspaper licenses have alluded to the fact that the licenses are typically seen as assets by the owner and can be sold for as much as $500,000. As a result, only about a quarter of the 110 political licenses that have been issued are currently in use.  Many see the Press Federation’s opposition as an attempt to protect their assets and in response some have suggested the government appease license owners with a reimbursement if licenses are eliminated.

OSCE Media Freedom Representative Concerned About Increasing Pressure on Media in Azerbaijan

New amendments to Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code make defamation published online punishable with up to three years in prison. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the move, pointing to a promise made by President Ilham Aliyev in 2011 to decriminalize defamation. The OSCE also condemned several other actions that they feel are threatening the press in Azerbaijan including the intimidation of a Radio Free Europe reporter, large defamation awards against newspapers, and the Baku Appeals Court upholding the nine-year sentence of Avaz Zeynalli, the editor-in-chief of the Khural newspaper. These incidences especially concern the OSCE as Azerbaijan is preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections in October.


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