Full-Scale Offensive to Be Launched on By-net?

A national work group of representatives of different institutions, which has to study the CIS and European countries’ experience of regulating Internet media on a legislative basis, will have submitted its first draft proposals by mid October, said Deputy Minister of Information Alaksandar Slabadcuk to a BelTA reporter on 25 September.

Mr Slabadcuk first mentioned that the work group ‘to study and look into’ the problem of legislative regulation of the Internet had been established, in his interview to the Interfax press agency on 20 August.

This time the deputy minister specified that the group consists of representatives of 15 institutions, including the Ministry for Information, Ministry for Communications and IT, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of the Internal, as well as the National Centre of Legislation under the auspices of the President of Belarus, the State Committee for Science and Technologies, Belarusian State University, etc. The work group is supposed to present a draft proposal of a document on regulating Internet media in Belarus. They are to determine whether it should take the form of either amendments to the existing Law on the Press and Other Media or a new chapter on the Internet in the law or a separate piece of legislation.

Alaksandar Slabadcuk assured once again that ‘we are not talking about introducing a kind of control or censorship or banning Internet media, but we are going to settle the terms of distributing information and bring order to the activities of Internet media.’ He stressed that ‘at present there is no legislative basis to regulate these issues in Belarus.’

The BAJ lawyers, however, have pointed more than once that officials’ claims that the Internet in Belarus is free from any control are groundless. This can be proved by a number of court trials and official warnings issued for articles that appeared on the Internet. Thus, Andrej Klimau has been sentenced to two years in prison, the UCPB is being sued for information that appeared on its web-site ucpb.org, Anatol Labiedzka has received a warning, etc.

At the same time the work group mentioned above is not the only body to make decisions on the future of the By-net within a short time limit. Apart from the ‘Internet amendments’ to the Law on the Press and Other Media, a work group of MPs with Tacciana Safronienka at its head is working out a draft law on information, spreading IT and information protection.

In mid August, following the group’s meeting, a lot of media quoted Ms Safronienka’s interview. ‘For example, we have rejected the idea of compulsory state registration of information systems accessible to the general public. It would be a groundless hindrance. If information is accessible to everyone, why should it be registered?’ the BelTa agency cited Ms Safronienka.

Some independent media arrived at an optimistic conclusion that ‘the MPs proposed Internet resourses to be registered if they wanted to.’ The BAJ press-service has asked Ms Safronienka for further explanations, and the MP said that the journalists had been too hasty in making conclusions and misinterpreted her words. According to Ms Safronienka, there was no discussing the requirement to register web-sites, as the MPs are convinced that registration is a must and the Ministry of Communications and IT will be in charge of it. Ms Safronienka said that the MPs had only agreed to do without compulsory registration of ‘information systems’ users.’

We wondered if web-sites would have to undergo double registration if the new Law on the Press and Other Media recognised Internet periodicals as media and obliged them to be registered with the Ministry for Information, too. Tacciana Safronienka assured that the authors of both the laws would ‘put everything in order.’ ‘Believe me, we are fighting over each word in the draft law,’ she said.

No later than in July Ms Safronienka explicitly labelled the draft law »half-baked’. The BAJ lawyers have presented their proposals and criticism of the first draft and participated in some meetings of the work group. They have pointed out more than once that the draft law has rather vague formulas and a lot of references. This enables the authorities to interpret it in a loose manner and regulate the information field by means of other by-laws.

However, following Alexander Lukashenka’s statements in early August that ‘anarchy on the Internet should be stopped,’ it is beyond doubt that the By-net will undergo a ‘full-scale’ regulation.