Media Law Roundup: September 18, 2015

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

Prominent Thai Journalist Jailed, Released

On September 13, 2015, Thailand’s junta, under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, detained Pravit Rojanaphruk, a senior reporter and columnist of the online newspaper Nation, without offering an official explanation of the arrest. The incident is the latest in a recent global trend targeting those who speak out against foreign governments. This is the second time a reporter has been summoned by Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), The Guardian reports. An accomplished journalist, Pravit is considered a champion of freedom of expression, often speaking out against military leaders and previous elected governments in Thailand. Editor-in-Chief of Nation Thepchai Yong said “there is no justification whatsoever” for Pravit’s detainment and the paper saw the move as a direct threat to press freedom. Nation called on the NCPO to immediately release Pravit, who claimed to have been ‘invited’ by an unnamed Thai military officer before being detained. Thai lawyers, who accompanied Pravit to his summons this week, say he was called in for an “attitude adjustment”- a statement the Prime Minister defended. On September 15, Pravit announced via Twitter that he had already been released from junta custody and on September 16, announced his plans to resign from Nation.

Google Accused of Abusing Power in Russia

This week, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) accused Google of abusing its ‘dominant position’ in the country by forcing phone makers to pre-install its apps on all Android phones, BBC reports. The case was initially brought against Google in February 2015 by Russian internet company Yandex, which controls about 60% of the search market in Russia. Despite the fact that Google’s search engine is less dominant in Russia than it is in other European countries, the Android operating system runs on more than 80% of smartphones sold in the country. Among Yandex’s complaints against Google are that it prioritizes its own services in its search results; that it requires the pre-instalment of its search engine by default; and that it requires Google app icons to have preferential placement of the first screen. While Google has opposed the allegations in the past, a spokesperson for the company said in a statement that Google’s will decide its next steps after the ruling. If the decision is not in Google’s favor, the company may face penalties up to 15% of its 2014 revenue in Russia, according to the report. The case is thought of as the defining moment of a five-year legal investigation started by European Union competition commissioner Margaret Vestager into the company’s use of power in foreign countries.

Pakistani Senate Committee Pushes to Lift Ban on YouTube

On September 14, 2015, the Senate Standing Committee for Information Technology urged the Supreme Court to lift the nation-wide ban on YouTube, legislation that has been in effect in Pakistan since September 2012. The push to lift the ban comes after a committee meeting, presided by Senator Shahi Syed, in which  lifting the ban was discussed at great length for the second time this year, Dawn reports. A limited lift of the ban was considered earlier this year as well, when Pakistani officials sought to unblock the video-sharing site while still filtering content considered ‘blasphemous’ to Muslims. At that time, IT Ministry officials said there was no way to remove adverse content and the only solution was a local version of the site, a plan which has yet to manifest with YouTube’s corporate parent Google. The push to unblock the site entirely has been supported by a number of other government authorities including the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights and the Afrasiab Khattak of the Awami National Party, who have pointed out that there is no such ban elsewhere in the region. According to the IT Ministry, the ban was imposed on orders of the Supreme Court and therefore must await the Court’s ruling to be lifted.

Ukraine Back Peddles on Decision to Ban Journalists

This week the President of Ukraine issued a decree banning more than 300 individuals from Ukraine borders, including a handful of journalists and media executives. The order, published on the official website for President Petro Poroshenko, said the journalists “presented an unspecified ‘threat to national interests, security, sovereignty, or territorial integrity,’” reports. Among the journalists banned were three BBC reporters, two Britons and one Russian. Almost immediately after the decree was issued, Poroshenko received from Ukraine’s Western allies. Critics of the ban called the move a “shameful attack on media freedom,” specifically naming banned reporters to defend these reporters’ work. While different news outlets initially reported varying exact numbers of individuals banned from Ukraine, the overall total number of individuals banned has decreased since the President, only a few hours after issuing the decree, publicly removed names from the sanctions list. Because of the staunch opposition and harsh criticism, Poroshenko removed six European journalists from the list, and the European Union responded ‘sharply,’ SWI reports. Experts say this is the first sanctions list issued against Russian foreign individuals that Kiev has passed since April of 2014 and some speculate whether it will be the last.

Turkish Opposition Journalists Face Government Attacks

This week, government supporters attacked the headquarters of prominent Turkish newspaper after President Recap Tayyip Erdogan publicly condemned the newspaper for promoting anti-government themes. This is the second verbal attack this month by the President on the newspaper and the second physical attack by his supporters against Hurriyet journalists, the New York Times reports. The attacks fall within the context of a larger ongoing dispute between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces in the country’s southeast. Pro-government journalist Cem Kucuk of the Star Newspaper “accused the veteran Hurriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan of backing the Kurdish Worker’s Party.” Two days later, on September 16, the President lashed out a third time against the newspaper, accusing it of distorting his words on Twitter. This charge “ignited a new wave of violent protests,” according to the report, with the President’s supporters smashing windows, chanting profanities, and storming the Hurriyet headquarters building.  Media rights groups have been quick to criticize without trepidation the attacks on journalists. “[The government] must send out a strong message,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch, “that lynch mobs should not be part of Turkey’s political culture.”

Iran Internet Decision-Making Power Consolidated

On September 14, 2015, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, announced that authority over internet policy in Iran will now be held exclusively by the Supreme Cyberspace Council, effectively closing off any other body’s say in Iran internet policy. Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says the decision will “give a free pass to security agencies to block any site that challenges the official line.” Previously, there were multiple state bodies involved in policing the internet in Iran, which allowed for different voices to be represented in decision-making processes. Though the Supreme Cyberspace Council is presided over by President Rouhani, a critic of the shift in power, the Council reports directly to the Supreme Leader. Khamenei argued in a statement online that he believes the internet is being used in Iran “by the enemy to target Islamic thinking,” the International Campaign for Human Rights reports. The Council, appointed by Khamenei, will filter the internet in Iran and hold the exclusive power to block specific websites. The decision has been accused of “stripping Rouhani of his ability to affect policy change,” as it will dissolve all other organizations involved in internet decision-making.

FCC to Tighten Outage Reporting Rules for Submarine Cables

This week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to propose new rules for outage reporting for submarine cable licensees, RCR Wireless News reports. The goal of the new rules, according to the FCC, is to “help safeguard critical communications infrastructure and promote reliable communications for business and consumers.” The decision would require submarine cable licensees to report significant outages to the FCC through regular and consistent protocol. Licensees currently only report outages on an ad hoc basis, and the information the FCC receives is of little use in resolving issues. As RCR reports, submarine cables have become crucial to connecting the US to its territories as well as to the rest of the world. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn names the most recent outage in the Northern Mariana Islands as a reason for the new rules. “To add insult to injury,” Clyburn says, “the agency responsible for ensuring continuous communications and reliability of the nation’s public communications infrastructure only learned of their plight through indirect channels.” The proposed rules are currently open for public comment.

Featured Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Enric Galocha.

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