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New law on mass media: Access to site can be restricted without court order even for one violation

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New law on mass media: Access to site can be restricted without court order even for one violation

The National Legal Internet Portal has published the text of the new bill “On the Mass Media”.

Liudmila Chekina, a lawyer and general director of Nadezhnye Programmy company, discussed the amendments with tut.by.

All information resources on the Internet containing information messages and reports are considered to be the mass media; foreign websites will need permission for being available in Belarus; owners of website will be responsible for users' comments; access to a website can be restricted without a court order even for one violation.

1. All information resources that are spread via the Internet and that contain information messages and reports are classified as the mass media.

The definition is so broad that all websites, including foreign ones, blogs and social networking sites, can be called media outlets.

2. Foreign websites will need permission for being available in Belarus.

Under part 5 of article 17, products of foreign media can be spread in Belarus without changes in the form and content after obtaining appropriate permission.

The Ministry of Justice can issue a warning for failure to fulfill this requirement. Access to a website in Belarus can be blocked after two or more warnings.

If these requirements are really applied in practice, either owners of all foreign sites will have to get permission, or access to their sites will be blocked in Belarus. We can only hope that the measures won't be applied to all foreign websites.

It is illegal to change the content of a foreign website when it is spread in Belarus. Violating this rule is the ground for issuing a warning if the site's owner is a foreign citizen.

3. The owner of a website must control both information published by the staff and comments from users.

Under part 3 of article 38, owners of information resources (or their parts) on the Internet must not allow spreading the information that violates requirements of the law on the media.

4. Changes regarding retractions.

A retraction of information published on the Internet must appear on the same information resource (or its part) that published the information subject to retraction not later than the day following the day of receiving the demand for the retraction, or the text of the retraction (answer) must be published in a special column on the same place of the page and made in the same font that the information subject to retraction. The information subject to retraction must be deleted.

5. The Ministry of Information can send a written warning also via email.

6. Access to website can be restricted without a court order even for one violation.

Earlier, the Ministry of Information or a prosecutor's office had to bring a claim to a court to stop the work of a media outlet (it was possible to suspend the work only for three months without a court decision). This rule still works, but Internet media were offered much stricter conditions: access to websites can be restricted simply on a decision of the Ministry of Information for two or more warnings a year as well as for one case of publishing the information restricted or banned from spreading by regulatory acts or failure to take measures regarding a legal demand of appropriate government bodies.

The decision on restricting access to a website is taken not later than three months since the grounds have arisen.

The decision of the Ministry of Information is obligatory for all Internet service providers in Belarus. It means that access will be blocked by Belarusian ISPs.

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