Media Law Roundup: October 23, 2015

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a weekly digest of developing media news stories from around the world. This week’s issue covers Turkish media threats, British internet policy debates, brazen Australian telecom law, and more.

New Australian Telecom Law Requires Mass Data Storage

On October 13, 2015, the Australian government passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to retain massive amounts of data for at least two years. Only metadata will be stored, including who called or texted whom and for how long, as well as location, volume of data exchanged, device information, and email IP data, the BBC reports. The new law, which was first proposed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull while he was the Communications Minister, has been met with mixed reactions from Australian citizens and members of government. Officials say that it is necessary “in the current high threat environment” for law enforcement to have access to data records, citing past investigations into domestic terrorism. Opponents of the law argue that the metadata the government will now collect “paints a detailed picture of what people are doing,” even if content itself is not tracked. According to the report, a significant cost will be associated with maintaining the data, a factor opponents are leveraging in the argument against the new law. Before this point, some data was already being stored by telecom companies, although neither as frequently nor as strictly as it will be now. Foreign sites including Facebook, Skype, and Gmail will be exempt.

German News Company Blocks Adblockers

On October 13, 2015, German media group Axel Springer announced that it will restrict readers using adblocking software from content on the popular news site Bild. Users with the software will be asked to switch it off or subscribe to Bild for a monthly fee. The latest move in a recent pushback against adblocking software among European media outlets, the decision is considered necessary by the company in order to remain an independent outlet. “Even on the internet, journalistic services need to be financed,” says Bild chairperson Donata Hopfen. Visitors to the site will be required to pay a monthly fee of €2.99, should they choose to leave the adblocking software on. The paid version of the site will offer an ad-free reading experience and will load faster than the standard site, the Financial Times reports. The company explains that the anti-adblocking measure is a pilot experiment, and leaves open the possibility of lifting some restrictions depending on the impact the measures have on site traffic. Despite a seven percent decline in circulation this year, Bild remains the country’s bestselling newspaper. Currently 23% of site users employ adblocking software.

British House of Commons Call for ‘Notspot Summit’

Following a motion made by MP Matt Warman, Britain’s House of Commons held a debate on Monday, October 12, to address the issues in unequal internet and broadband coverage across the country. The House discussed ways to address problems related to the lack of reliable internet—an issue faced by an overwhelming percent of British citizens, the BBC reports. Warman outlined during the debate variations in the ‘rollout of fixed and mobile superfast broadband,’ focusing on the House’s goal of 95% coverage in Britain by 2017. The need for a final step in the effort to close the remaining 5% gap became evident, particularly after multiple MPs voiced the concerns of their constituents, many of whom live in rural areas without high speed broadband. The resounding sentiments from officials at the meeting expressed interest in a ‘notspot summit,’ a gathering of national government leaders to discuss and address these issues with urgency. According to reports, the question of whether the broadband strategy is working at all will likely overshadow other topics of concern at any future summit. As it stands, definitive details about a summit have not been released.

Taliban Threatens Afghan Media

On October 13, 2015, a Taliban website threatened journalists associated with two Afghan TV outlets, Tolo TV and 1TV, and accused the ‘satanic networks’ of spreading anti-jihad propaganda. The Islamic group says that these outlets, along with all of their employees, affiliates, and supporters, will hereafter be considered military objectives and warned against continuing their operations. According to the statement, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan holds utmost respect for independent and impartial news outlets. However, it cannot support Tolo TV or 1TV as they are “bent on enmity towards [the Afghan Mujahid] religion and country.” The same day as the statement was made, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) publicly condemned the Taliban’s threat, calling “on Afghan authorities to do their utmost to ensure the safety of all journalists and news outlets.” The CPJ’s is not the only public reaction to the Taliban’s statement; Tolo TV has issued a press release on its website calling on the government to make security a priority for all Afghan journalists, not only those threatened specifically in the statement. Tolo TV and 1TV are both privately-owned operations in Afghanistan that frequently report on government activity in the state.

Turkey Bans Media Coverage Following Terror Attack

Turkish government officials put a temporary ban on social media access in the country immediately following the suicide bombing that took place on October 10th in the nation’s capital and left 95 dead and 300 injured. The bombings occurred during a peace march in Ankara that was organized to demand an end to renewed hostilities by the state with Kurdish militants, the Verge reports. Scattered complaints from around the country pointed to outages mainly on Twitter and Facebook, with thousands of Turkish citizens unable to access either site. Internet access was reported down in many parts of the country as well, and has since been reported as censorship by the Turkish government on news coverage of the event. The Turkish Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) released on its website a ban on broadcasting images of the blast and warned media organizations that they could face “a full blackout” if they did not comply. A spokesperson for RTÜK said that the order was imposed so as not to create a feeling of panic among citizens who might react irrationally to images of the blast. According to the Independent, social media blackouts have been imposed with increasing frequency in Turkey in recent years.

Russia to Attempt Internet Shut-out

The Telegraph reported this week that Russia has run large-scale tests to gauge the feasibility of cutting the country off from the World Wide Web, in order to prepare for an information blackout in the event of a domestic political crisis. The experiments come among mounting concern regarding a Kremlin campaign to clamp down on internet freedoms in Russia. In one such test, Russia’s national regulator Roskomnadzor ordered communication hubs run by major Russian service providers to block traffic to foreign communications channels by using a traffic control system called DPI. By doing so, Roskomnadzor was able to see whether the Russian internet was able to function without the global internet . This test, along with a slew of others, failed because “thousands of smaller service providers, which Roskomnadzor has little control over, continued to pass information out of the country,” says Andrei Semerikov, director of Russian provider Er Telecom. Critics of these tests are concerned that Russia will adopt a Chinese model of internet censorship, resulting in severe cutbacks to Russian netizen rights. Russia has passed a handful of internet laws in recent years, creating a policy that is often referred to as an imposition of ‘digital sovereignty.’

Indian Operators to Compensate Subscribers

On October 16, 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Company Authority of India (TRAI) made it mandatory for telecom operators to compensate consumers one rupee for each dropped call, for up to three calls in one day. The order dictates that an operator should send a text message to the customer within four hours of the dropped call exacting the amount to be credited to the user’s account. TRAI has stated that the goal of the new ruling is not only to provide users with some reprieve from India’s ongoing call-drop issue, but also to “spur service providers to improve the quality of service.” This week Gadgets ND reported that the new mandate is likely to make a measureable impact in the pre-tax profit of Indian operators Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular, possibly cutting 7-8% from the companies’ revenues. According to the report, “the penalty structure is open for abuse.” Critics of the new plan argue that there will be no way to stop users from starting a call and extracting the battery from their device in order to profit from the call. Other critics speculate about the regulator’s ability to enforce the new rule, and about its ability to create actual progress in the call-drop issue. The new mandate is set to take effect on January 1, 2016.

Telecom Namibia Blames Rivals for Network Issues

On October 22, 2015, country-wide Telecom Namibia accused its rival companies of interfering with its TN Mobile 2G and 3G services, which are currently experiencing connectivity problems. In a statement on Tuesday, Ovia Angula, head of corporate communications, said that thousands of users across the country are reporting connectivity problems as a result of the interference. TN Mobile is one of only two mobile operators in the country and as such, outages on the network have wide-spread repercussions. The source of the interference was confirmed in a report by the Communication Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) as originating from another operator and CRAN is reported to be “sorting out the issues with the operator concerned.” While the name of the interfering operator has not yet been disclosed, CRAN says the rival company has brought in international telecom experts to assist with the interference, efforts that speak to the magnitude of the issue. MTC, the only other operator in the country, has suggested that CRAN not rule out the possibility of a third party as the origin of the interference.

Featured Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Steve Rhodes

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