Media Law Roundup: September 11, 2015

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

International Technology Forum Expects Big Results

The New York Times reported this week on what has been named the U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum, a gathering of international tech executives, as well as industry and political leaders, set to convene September 23 in Seattle, WA. Among those attending, President Xi Jinping and China’s internet czar Lu Wei will speak on behalf of the Chinese government in an effort to demonstrate to the U.S. China’s “sway over the American tech industry.” A number of executives and CEOs from American companies, including  Facebook, Google, Apple, and Uber, were also invited but so far, only Apple’s CEO Timothy Cook is expected to attend. According to one report, the invitation is a tough one to decline because of the opportunities that lie in China’s tech market, which is the largest in the world. Google and Facebook, among others, are currently blocked from doing business in China, a rule which may be a topic of discussion during the forum. “While the tech companies have not taken positions opposing American sanctions and some are conflicted about how to approach China, their appearance at the meeting would signal how much leverage China wields,” Paul Mozur and Jane Perlez report. While in Seattle, President Xi also plans to meet with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates at his nearby home before heading to Washington to meet with President Obama regarding changes in global internet governance policy.

Israeli Law Threatens Freedom of Expression

On September 7, 2015, the Israeli Parliament passed a last-minute, majority amendment to the public broadcasting law. This amendment prevents journalists working for the Israel Broadcast Authority (IBA) from expressing personal opinions on public figures or international issues on air. Passed by the Knesset at the request of MK Yisrael Eichler, the amendment has already been accused of stifling freedom of expression and legalizing censorship. Other parts of the passed legislation address television licensing fees and a future name change for the IBA. Eichler himself defended the law claiming, “Reporters that are paid with public money cannot offend any public. Those who want to lead personal campaigns and agendas could do so in the privately-owned commercial media and on their own expense. ” Ofir Akunis, a minister in the Communication Ministry, explained that the law is meant to advance the IBA and create a more unified image of Israeli authority. Explanations offered by government leaders since the passing of the amendment however, have been dwarfed by opposition voices, including that of Isaac Herzog who slammed Prime Minister Netanyahu for “bringing down freedom of expression.” In addition, many legal sources and journalist associations have not only spoken out against the amendment, but plan to take action against it. Predictions have been made about petitions against the bill, consultations planned to examine the legality of the amendment, and political reverberation created from non-governmental media outlets. Focus turns now to social media, as many speculate about the affects the bill will have on freedom of expression online and how backlash may be treated by the government.

Australian Prime Minister to Flip-Flop on Media Deregulation

This week, Australian former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer speculated about Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s stance on a stalled plan to reform media ownership laws. Fischer predicted a “backflip in the same way [Abbott did] over a push to take [in] more Syrian refugees,” Sydney Morning Herald reports. Fischer called for a “full scale” cabinet discussion over media deregulation, which he says could trigger a series of mergers and acquisitions, aligning the policy with the “core principles of the Liberal and National government”- less regulation. In response to Abbott’s hold on reforms proposed by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Fischer ignited an online campaign, Save our Voices, which aims to overturn the decision. “The changes would have abolished the so-called “reach rule,’’ James Massola and Matthew Knott report, “which prohibits TV license holders from broadcasting to more than 75 percent of the population, and the two-out-of-three rule, which stops a media company from controlling more than two of a radio station, free-to-air TV station and newspaper.” According to the Australian Financial Review, four regional broadcasters, including Prime Media, WIN Corp, Southern Cross, and Imparja, are “at risk of disappearing” unless the government addresses these rules. Executives from these companies, as well as former politicians and media rights activists, now await Abbott’s decision.

WhatsApp Recovers from Bug Affecting Millions

This week, popular messaging service WhatsApp released an update after a glitch put as many as 200 million users at risk by allowing hackers to distribute malware and ransomware through the service’s web-based app, BBC reports. The flaw is the first of its kind on the system since the app was bought by Facebook in February 2014. The service, offered through both a web and mobile app, allows messages, images, and other content to be sent and received independently of users’ cellular data plans. The ransomware, made easily accessible to hackers via the app’s virtual card (vCard) format, forced subjected users to pay a fee to access their received messages and files. In order to send a malicious vCard, a hacker simply needed a target’s phone number. Once opened, a vCard could distribute the malicious code. Check Point Security Research Group Manager Oded Vanunu reported that “WhatsApp responded quickly and responsibly to deploy an initial mitigation against exploitation of this issue in all web clients, pending an update of the WhatsApp client.” Check Point applauded WhatsApp for their prompt response, warning that “software vendors and service providers should be secured and act in accordance with security best practices.”

Cybercrime Act in Jamaica Faces Staunch Accusations

This week Dr. Andrew Wheatley, opposition spokesperson on Science, ICT, and Digital Society, called for changes to the Jamaican Cybercrimes Bill, an act originally passed in 2010.  The original legislation intended to provide criminal sanctions for the misuse of computer systems or data in an attempt to reduce cybercrime in Jamaica. It was repealed in the spring of 2015, however, after a number of amendments were recommended by a committee of Parliament. Now in its latter stages of redevelopment, the bill is facing harsh criticism, primarily from Wheatley  who accused the new amendments of paving the way for ‘abuse of power’ by law enforcement. Wheatley made a number of other critiques of the bill this week; threatening freedom of expression, bringing about self-censorship, and affecting the growth of the ICT, to name a few. “While the need for the new provisions is understood and there are clear benefits to be derived from the proposed legislation, greater care needs to be exercised in striking a balance between enforcement on the one hand, and usage of technology on the other,” the spokesman said. The bill remains tabled.

Ecuador Government Terminates Free Speech Organization

Ecuador’s Secretary of Communications, Secom, announced on September 8, 2015 that it is dissolving the popular free speech organization Fundamedios for “disseminating messages with indisputable political overtones.” Ecuador President Rafael Correa is known for “waging a war” on the press ever since taking office in 2007 and at every new development of the President’s attacks against the media, Fundamedios has worked to denounce his attempts to stifle free journalism. The case against the organization rests mainly on content shared on Fundamedios’ Twitter account, which Secom accused of linking to articles critical of Correa. In 2014, Secom took over advisory control of Fundamedios and in June of this year, threatened to dissolve it. In the notice, Secom said the organization has “violated its own charter that limits it to ‘the areas of social communication and journalism,’” Miami Herald reports. Fundamedios has 10 days to appeal the notice, but organization director César Ricaurte says the period is simply a formality, claiming Secom is “keeping up appearances that they’re giving us a chance to defend ourselves.” Ricaurte called the work that Fundamedios does “irreplaceable,” and worries that governmental reign over the media will go unchecked in its absence.

Featured Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Jeffrey Zeldman

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