Media Law Roundup: September 24, 2015

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

Egyptian President Pardons Al-Jazeera English Journalists

On September 23, 2015, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi pardoned two journalists from Al-Jazeera English. The journalists were initially sentenced to three years in prison last month after a retrial for airing what the court described as “false news,” USA Today . Along with Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohammed, the President pardoned nearly one hundred other individuals, mostly human rights activists who had been detained on various sentences. Prosecutors accused the journalists of working with the ‘outlawed’ Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, resulting in charges for spreading false rumors and harming national security. The journalists, backed by Al-Jazeera, strictly denied the charges, claiming they were simply reporting the news. In addition to statements from the paper, the charges were met with an angry uproar online from human rights activists who claimed the allegations were an attack on freedom of expression. After the pardon, which came one day before El-Sisi is set to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, the President “expressed regret that the journalists were tried” in the first place. Falling on the eve of Eid Al-Adha, the pardons are among many to have occurred in conjunction with Egyptian national holidays.

India Withdraws National Encryption Policy

On September 22, 2015, the Indian government withdrew its recent National Encryption Policy following public outrage this week. The new law would have required citizens of India to store plain-text versions of their encrypted data for 90 days and make it available to security agencies, the BBC reports. The policy initially ignited furor online from Indian citizens as most messaging services use encryption. On Monday, September 21, the citizen backlash proved to be powerful enough that the Indian government exempted all social media applications from the new policy. One day later, the policy was entirely retracted. The law was originally intended to “enhance information security in India,” says Union Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and was not meant to be “related to social media messaging platforms used by the common man.” Prasad also says this is not the last that we’ll see of this new rule, as it will be “redrawn to specify who it will apply to.” Citizens of the country have until October 16 to weigh in on the new draft and the government has offered to consider all feedback in creating the new measures.

France Denies Google’s Appeal in ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Case

This week, the French data protection regulator Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) rejected Google’s appeal to a May order requiring the tech behemoth to expand Europe’s “right to be forgotten” ruling to every Google website, including, The Verge reports. In recent months, Google has been involved with an ongoing struggle that has resulted in the company agreeing to remove search results on only the country-specific version of the site in which the request was made, such as The rejected appeal this week is that of CNIL’s May order forcing Google to apply “right to be forgotten” removals not only to the company’s European domains, but to the search engine’s global domain Google’s appeal, filed in July, was against CNIL’s president, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, and claimed that it CNIL’s May order would “impede the public’s right to information” and was a form of censorship. Falque-Pierrotin was quick to reply, claiming that the decision to reject the appeal “does not show any willingness to apply French law extraterritorially.” CNIL says it has no interest in helping foreign governments misuse the right to be forgotten. Following the appeal this week, Google now faces the possibility of the case being taken to the European level.

Thailand Refuses to Print International Edition of New York Times

On Tuesday, September 22, 2015, the New York Times’ local printer in Thailand refused to print the paper because the edition contained a story deemed too sensitive to print, CNN Money reports. The offending story, a front-page head-liner, appeared to speculate about the declining health of Thailand’s revered king and his ability to rule given his state. The headline, which reads “As Thai king ails, crown’s future unclear,” was written by Bangkok-based Times correspondent Thomas Fuller and is available online in Thailand. An anonymous employee of the printing company said in a statement that the company decided not to print the article because it criticized the king–a decision the company reserves the right to make. This is not The Times’ first run-in with lese majeste laws; in May 2014, a local printer in the United Arab Emirates refused to print content that it deemed too sensitive. A spokesperson for the newspaper said the decision not to print was entirely that of the printer and was not endorsed by the paper. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest reigning monarch and insulting him is punishable by law in Thailand.

China’s President Pushes Cybersecurity Efforts at Tech Summit

On September 23, 2015, China’s President Xi Jinping, accompanied by Chinese tech leaders, met with a panel of US tech CEOs in Seattle, WA to discuss U.S.-China industry relations and collaboration. At the top of the President’s shortlist was the issue of cybersecurity, stating that China is open to “high-level” dialogue with the U.S. regarding commercial theft and hacking, ZD Net reports. Xi and his cohort, which included Alibaba founder Jack Ma, emphasized the need for enhanced cybersecurity, citing large numbers of successful and attempted hacks into both government networks and private sector company sites in China. According to Xi, both the U.S. and China share common concerns about cybersecurity and therefore need to work together to strengthen cooperation on the issue. The two countries have been in disagreement in the past, ZD reports, with both sides accusing the other of attempting cyberattacks. U.S. tech leaders in attendance at the roundtable included CEOs from IBM, Apple, and Microsoft.. Other key issues brought up during the summit included intellectual property rights, U.S. foreign investments, and a pull for more U.S. tech companies in China.

Watchdogs, Rights Groups Outraged by Journalist’s Arrest in Turkey

On September 22, 2015, Gültekin Avcı, a popular columnist for the independent daily Bugün, was detained by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor-on-duty as part of the Tawhid-Salam investigation. “Tawhid-Salam is an alleged Iran-backed terrorist organization which was investigated for three years by Turkish police and allegedly involves high ranking politicians,” BGN News reports. Avci, a former public prosecutor, has penned seven articles now obtained as evidence for the charges. The process of his arrest has been controversial at nearly every turn, from his extended detention to the lack of explicit Criminal Code to account for the detainment. In the days following the arrest, a number of organizations have spoken out against Turkish authorities, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which publicly condemned the subversion charges. The CPJ says it is apparently clear that Avci was not establishing a terrorist group in writing the articles, calling out Turkish authorities for frequently using “vaguely-worded charges to jail journalists who cover sensitive topics.” The CPJ is not the only group to voice strong opinions; on Wednesday, September 23, Istanbul deputy for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Barış Yarkadaş vehemently attacked the charges, calling for the resignation of the magistrate judge responsible for the arrest. Four police officers were also detained in connection with the same charges but three of them have since been released.

U.S. Proposes New ‘Dig Once’ Plan for Internet Access

On September 22, 2015, the White House released the Broadband Opportunity Council Report, a federal plan to standardize internet access, encourage competition among American internet providers, and lower the cost of laying down new internet cables. The plan calls for “federal agencies to develop new rules and to streamline the way they give out funding for building Internet infrastructure and online services,” the Washington Post reports. Also outlined in the report is President Obama’s ‘dig once’ plan. This policy will allow only one tube to be laid in the ground for all internet cables to be fed through, and any subsequent service providers will be able to route cables through the existing conduit. Intending to increase high-speed internet accessibility, the President explained this week that ‘dig once’ will lower the cost of broadband for consumers and decrease road-related costs from repeated excavation. White House blogger Jeffrey Zients says that “nearly 75 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet connection at home,” a fact that is hindering many from economic growth and access to education. “Access to high-speed broadband is no longer a luxury,” says President Obama, “it is a necessity for American families, businesses, and consumers.”

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