Media Law Roundup: August 28, 2015

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a survey of this week’s latest in global media news. 

CPJ Orders Release of Chinese Journalist

New York-based press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) this week called on the Chinese government to release imprisoned reporter Wang Xiaolu after claiming allegations against him were untrue. Wang was detained in China on Tuesday, August 26 for falsifying a report about trading on the Beijing stock market, allegedly “fabricating and spreading false information about securities and futures trading,” according to Chinese press agency Xinhua. The Guardian reports that some think Wang’s arrest is linked to the fact that Chinese shares took a hard hit in July of this year “after Wang reported that China’s Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) was considering an exit from funds used to help buoy the stock market.” The CPJ is now fighting these allegations, claiming Wang was simply “covering the news.” CPJ’s Asia coordinator Bob Dietz said: “The Chinese authorities’ hypersensitivity to fluctuations in the financial markets is no reason to intimidate and jail a journalist for covering the news.” In December of last year, the CPJ named China the world’s leading jailer of journalists, by numbers.

Russia Bans Wikipedia for One Day

On August 24, 2015, Russian authorities briefly banned Wikipedia, the searchable online knowledge base. The content on one page describing charas, an Indian form of hashish, spurred the temporary ban. While only this single page was under fire, some Russian internet service providers (ISPs) were forced to ban the entire site due to Wikipedia’s secure https protocol. The Guardian reports that, in accordance with a recent court decision in Cherny Yar, authorities ordered several ISPs to block the site after the small-town court ordered that the page be banned because it contained “harmful information.” Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications watchdog, then retracted the ban on Tuesday, August 25, just one day later, after users edited the page. Roskomnadzor said in a statement that they decided to rescind the order because the illegal information about charas was redacted from the page. Wikipedia editors, however, claim the page did not change. Andrei Soldatov, author of Red Web, reasons that “the move against Wikipedia could be part of a test of another strategy: by threatening the site with bans over single pages, the site could be forced off https to ensure that the whole site is not affected when only one page is banned.”

Wyndham Hotels Hacked, Sued

On August 24, 2015, a U.S. appellate court ruled that the Federal Trade Commission can sue Wyndham Hotels for allowing itself to be hacked, claiming that the hotel chain ‘let’ 600,000 customers’ data be stolen. This information was stolen over two separate data breaches, one in 2008 and one in 2009, and lead to more than $10 million in fraudulent charges. While the court ruled on the authority of the FTC to carry out such a lawsuit and not on specific allegations, some speculate that the Commission will not be shy when it comes to protecting consumers’ cybersecurity in this way. Although Wyndham fought back in response to the FTC’s authority in the past, a statement released this week by spokesperson Michael Valentino claims that the company “believe[s] consumers will be best served by the government and businesses working together collaboratively rather than as adversaries.” This ruling has larger implications for any company that fails to protect consumer data from hackers, “if the companies are engaged in what the FTC deems ‘unfair’ or ‘deceptive’ business practices,” Wired reports.

New DoD War Manual Names Harsh Punishment for Journalists

On August 26, 2015, the Associated Press reported that the updated Law of War Manual, a set of guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Defense, allows commanders to punish journalists deemed “unprivileged belligerents” if they believe journalists are cooperating with the enemy. Starting this year, the manual applies to all branches of the military. Experts in military journalism say that the provision, a vaguely-worded update near the end of the manual, implies that the “detention of a journalist could come down to a commander’s interpretation of the law.” Pentagon spokesperson Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers says it was not the Defense Department’s intent to allow commanders to take harmful action against any journalist with whom they might not get along. Still, speculations remain surrounding the magnitude of power now held by commanders in regards to deciding journalists’ fate. International press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RWB) published an open letter to U.S. defense secretary Ash Carter on August 11 urging Carter to revise “dangerous” new language in the manual. Despite the snowballing bad attention from major news outlets, the Pentagon has yet to revise the manual.

Google Ordered to Comply with ICO Ruling

This week, the U.K. data protection watchdog Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ordered Google to remove nine search results to news stories about a criminal act committed by a particular person. ICO has given Google 35 days to comply with the order, Politico’s Zoya Sheftalovich reports, “sparking concerns about broader implications for press freedoms.” Chief Executive of the ICO said in a statement that the ruling illustrates a broadening ability to hand pick what is on the internet and what is not. The case is preceded by other applications of Europe’s right to be forgotten. These types of cases have serious implications for press freedom not just in the U.K., but in all of Europe, claims writer’s association English PENN Director Jo Glanville. “It’s a concern in terms of press freedom and freedom of expression more broadly,” she said. “This leads to all sorts of future problems. The question is to what extent Google is prepared to fight it further.”

Dismissal of Mexico Coach Raises Questions about Freedom of Speech

On August 26, 2015, Global Voices Online reported that the dismissal of Miguel Herrera, former head coach of Mexico’s national football team, has sparked a lively debate about freedom of speech in Mexico. His dismissal follows an ongoing dispute between Herrera and sports commentator Christian Martinoli, culminating in a physical conflict between the two at Philadelphia International Airport on July 27, 2015. The ongoing argument between the two initially started over remarks Martinoli made after Mexico’s loss to Ecuador on June 19, 2015. At a press conference the following day, Herrera promised to find Martinoli and ‘fight him.’ Friction between the two grew over the following weeks on Twitter, with Herrera and Martinoli volleying snide remarks online. Herrera’s dismissal from the team became official on July 28 when Decio de María, president of the Mexican Football Federation, announced that anyone “without any idea or concept of the principle of freedom of speech cannot be a member of the Mexican Football federation.” Some have taken to Twitter, questioning whether Martinoli’s original comments could have been more productive or constructive. María says in the end, the score cannot come before respect for the freedom of speech.

SHURSA Rules Journalist’s Death a Crime

On August 21, 2015, the Sudan Tribune reported that the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA) announced that the killing of New Nation journalist Peter Moi Julius last week was a crime equivalent to silencing the voice of all Sudanese people. Julius was murdered on Wednesday, August 19, in the national capital of Juba following threatening comments directed towards journalists from South Sudan president Salva Kiir. Many believe the unknown gunmen who shot down the journalist are government agents sent on a mission to carry out threats made my Kiir. Chief Executive of SSHURSA Biel Boutros Biel said the president’s comment was a direct incitement to kill journalists.  The Sudan Tribune reports that “Biel also called on the international community to continue standing with South Sudanese journalists and call[ed] upon [the] entire media fraternity to stand together at such trying times.”

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