A working group meeting preceding the second reading of a draft law on ‘Amendments to the Law ‘On Mass Media’ was held at the Standing Committee on Human Rights, National Relations, and Mass Media on May 8, 2018.
Apart from the standing committee members and other parliamentarians, the meeting was attended by the Ministry of Information officials, including Deputy Minister of Information Pavel Liohki, the BAJ Chairperson Andrei Bastunets, representatives of mainstream media, including Onliner.by, Tut.by, Radio Liberty, BelaPAN, and ‘Sovietskaya Byelorussia’ as well as by a representative of Belarusian Union of Journalists Siarhei Svierkunou, director of Press Club Belarus Mikalai Anishchanka, and a leader of ‘Tell the Truth!’ movement Andrei Dzmitryeu. Among other, the meeting was attended by an Member of Parliament Hanna Kanapatskaya.
The BAJ Chairperson Andrei Bastunets told the BAJ Press Service that Hanna Kanapatskaya drew the meeting participants’ attention to the prospective legal norm that provides for extrajudicial blocking of Web-resources and impossibility to challenge the decision in court: “It’s a very tough measure, since it’s possible to appeal even against the official warnings, issued by the Ministry of Information in court”.
Also, a TUT.BY representative Liudmila Chekina noted that according to the bill drafters it will be possible to restore public access to the Web-resource by means of lodging a corresponding claim to the Ministry of Information of Belarus and the Ministry will have up to one month to regard the case and take a relevant decision. “Actually, following this kind of suspension from activity for such a long period of time, a Web-resource can be simply destroyed”, - said Andrei Bastunets.
Moreover, the meeting participants discussed the suggested administrative charges for dissemination of banned information by Web-resources. The bill developers failed to explain what information could be regarded as ‘banned’ at that. Also, there were discussed the suggested more rigid rules of registration for on-line resources in the form of ‘Web-editorials’.
A separate part of discussion was dedicated to the proposed verification procedure for Web-users.
“Apparently, the Ministry of Information wouldn’t like to abandon the idea. Therefore, they are likely to propose a supplementary provision with further explanation of registration procedures,” said Andrei Bastunets.
The discussion lasted for around 2.5 hours. Pavel Liohki noted that some objections are already being considered, since they were presented before.
However, the precise content and amount of objections to be taken into consideration by the Ministry of Information in the draft bill to be presented for the second reading in the Chamber of Representatives remain to be unknown.
Andrei Bastunets thanked the parliamentarians for sending the draft bill to the Belarusian Association of Journalists for analysis and remarks before its first reading in the Chamber of Representatives. However, he noted it would have been better to receive it at the stage of development. Also, he noted that it would have been a good idea to send the draft amendments for consideration to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
Also, the BAJ Chairperson noted during the meeting that the draft law was outdated, since the media situation is changing quickly. Also, he underscored the irrelevance of existence of the Ministry of Information with the present-day mandate and scope of responsibility.
The issue of legal status for freelance journalists was touched upon during the meeting. However, there wasn’t a possibility to discuss concrete proposals, therefore the problem remained unsolved.