June 30 - July 02, 2008
The Council of Republic Adopted Draft Law on the Mass Media
June 30, 2008
The Council of Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, which is the upper chamber of the Belarusian Parliament, adopted in the morning 28 June the draft law on the mass media, Interfax West reports.
27 June several international organizations addressed the Council of Republic with appeals not to adopt the draft law and to send it back for further consideration to the Chamber of Representatives.

There were such appeals signed by OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti, International Federation of Journalists, Ŕrticle19, Human Rights House Foundation, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Norwegian Union of Journalists, Norwegian Pen Centre, The Danish Union of Journalists, Index on Censorship and Civic Belarus.

A Lady Journalist Got Fined for "Contempt of Court"

July 1, 2008

A Radio Liberty journalist Lubou Luniova was fined 8 base amounts (around EUR 90) during a case hearing in the Kastrychnitski City District Court of Minsk on June 30, 2008. She was accused of ­Ťcontempt ­of courtť for answering shortly a phone call in a whisper.

Lubou Luniova attended hearings on an administrative case against Mikhail Pashkevich, a United Civil Party activist. The judge Ryta Shagrai made up her mind to fine the­ radio reporter for Ťc­ontempt of courtť. She was irritated by the journalists brief answer to a phone call.

It should be noted that both journalists and other people, who wanted to attend the court session, werent permitted to enter the court room at the beginning. As soon as the media representat­ives lo­dged a complained to the court president, the people were allowed to enter the court-room. ŤYou will ­write such rubbish, if you are let in!ť the court president ­emphasized.

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner condemns new Law on Mass Media in Belarus

July 1, 2008

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, condemns the passing on 27 June of the new Law on Mass Media in Belarus.

­"I deplore the adoption by Belarus parliament of a new Media Law that will further restrict the freedom of the press in Belarus. I regret that this law fails to take up the recommendations of Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, who had cooperated with the Belarusian administration. This is a missed opportunity for the Belarusian authorities to improve the media conditions in Belarus and thus take a step towards democratisation. Freedom of the press is an essential element of democracy and I urge the Belarusian authorities to remedy this situation ahead of the parliamentary elections of 28 September. I reiterate the EU´s offer to Belarus for further engagement provided that Belarus takes convincing steps towards democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, including the release of all political prisoners, the freedom of the media and the democratic conduct of parliamentary elections. Such positive steps would allow for the EU to positively respond".

On 28 June, the Belarusian Parliament passed a new Law on the Mass Media. The Law puts further restrictions on Belarusian media, including Internet based media, according to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Belarusian Association of Journalists and Reporters without Borders.

Niasvizhski Chas Expelled from Office

July 1, 2008

Niasvizhski Chas non-state regional newspaper is made to leave the office it has been in for three years.

30 June the newspaper received a letter from local Housing and Communal Department director. The letter states that Niasvizh District Executive Committee has not given its permission for prolongation of the rental agreement between Housing and Communal Department and Intex Press Region enterprise which is the publisher of Niasvizhski Chas.

Liudmila Miadzvedzeva, Deputy Chairperson of District Executive Committee, told Aliaksej Bely, the editor of Niasvizhski Chas, that the premises at Kazlou street, 2 will now be used by the local authorities for "their own needs".

According to the journalist, there are a lot of empty rooms in the building.

The editorial board now seeks a new office.

Not long ago Gazeta Slonimskaja, another Belarusian non-state regional newspaper, was expelled from the office in circumstances similar to this. The lessor refused to prolong a rental agreement after 7 years of rent. Journalists of Gazeta Slonimskaja work at their homes from the beginning of June.

Niasvizhski Chas has not been distributed via state retail Belsajuzdruk system since the beginning of 2008, although it is still distributed via subscription. It is also forbidden for private enterprises to sell the newspaper under a threat of sanctions from District Executive Committee.

PACE rapporteur urges Minsk not to enact new Media Law

July 1, 2008

Andrea Rigoni, special rapporteur on Belarus in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), has urged Minsk to refrain from enacting a new media law.

"Once this legislation comes into force, it will restrict freedom of information in the country even further, especially when it comes to electronic media, and will extend the power of the authorities to interfere with media activities in a way which is contrary to European standards," Mr. Rigoni says in a statement issued in Strasbourg on July 1. "What is more, even before its entry into force, the new draft law is bound to have a chilling effect of self-censorship on the media. Given the forthcoming parliamentary elections, this gives particular and acute cause for concern."

"I call on the Belarusian authorities to suspend any further examination of this draft and its entry into force, and, before proceeding further, to engage in a broad and meaningful consultation process with Belarusian human rights organizations and civil society - including, of course, independent media representatives - as well as relevant international organizations such as the Council of Europe. This would be a golden opportunity for the Belarusian authorities to show that their willingness to come closer to Europe is genuine," Mr. Rigoni concluded.

The new version of Belarus" Media Law was passed by the House of Representatives on June 24 and approved by the upper parliamentary chamber, The Council of the Republic, four days later despite severe criticism from the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). According to the BAJ, the bill would allow the government to require online media outlets to obtain state registration and all non-registered online news sources irrespective of their origin might be blocked.

Natallya Pyatkevich, deputy head of the Presidential Administration, insisted earlier in June that the enactment of the law would not mean that a government directive requiring the compulsory state registration of online media outlets would necessarily follow. However, Deputy Information Minister Liliya Ananich said in May that the information ministry unambiguously advocates the establishment of a registration requirement for online media outlets, as "there exists a problem of disinformation flows" from websites abroad, which she said are aimed at destructively influencing processes in Belarus. "But there is the experience of China, which has cut off access to its territory for such sites," she noted.

The bill would also ban professional activities of non-accredited journalists working for foreign media outlets. "This means that if you write for a foreign publication, you will be regarded as a correspondent of this publication and will be punished if you have no accreditation," explains BAJ legal expert Yury Taparashaw.

The bill would also prohibit Belarusian media outlets from receiving financial and technical support from foreign private persons and organizations unless they are co-founders.

Media outlets would be made liable to punishment for "distributing false information that can cause damage to state or public interests."

A Dentist Got Rejected a Claim against a Journalist 

July 2, 2008

Slonim District Court rejected completely a claim, submitted by a dentist Natallia Kiman against Siarhej Vasilyeu, a journalist of "Gazeta Slonimskaya" non-state newspaper. 

This decision was announced by the judge Natallia Radzivonchyk in the morning on July 2, 2008. Volha Syman, an attorney from Minsk Regional Panel of Attorneys represented the respondent´s interests in court.

The claim was caused by an article "A Patient Almost Died after a Tooth Extraction" by Siarhej Vasilyeu, published in "Gazeta Slonimskaya" in March 2008. The journalist narrated a story of a Slonim dweller Galina Maroz, who nearly died after a dentist N. Kiman extracted one of her teeth. 

As soon as the publication appeared in the newspaper, the dentist sent a defamation claim with a requested sum of moral damages in the amount of 10 million Belarusian rubles June 24, 2008

Belarusian Draft Law "On Mass Media" Adopted after the 2nd Reading

The Chamber of Representatives at the National Assembly of Belarus has adopted the Law "Om Mass Media" after the 2nd reading. 96 MPs supported the bill and 2 parliamentarians voted against it, the "Interfax-West" News Agency informs.

The Head of Committee on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass MediaYury Kulakouski told that a range of proposals from the "SB. Belarus Today" ("The Soviet Byelorussia"), "The Economic Newspaper", the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the OSCE Representative´s on Media Freedom Office had been included in the final version of the draft law. 

Mr. Kulakouski mentioned separate amendments, included in the draft bill before the 2nd reading. 

In particular, he stated about the BAJ proposal regarding the work of correspondents´ outlets.

These are regarded as departments of legal entities instead of representations, as it was outlined in the initial version of the draft law, the Radio "Liberty" reports.

Certain amendments were included in the legal norm about re-registration of media outlets. Initially, it was suggested that mass media organizations had to get officially re-registered, while changing the legal address. Presently, it will be enough to tell about the address change to the registering authority.

The MPs supported the BAJ proposal to set the maximum term of three months for solving conflicts between media outlets and the state authorities. The term wasn´t stipulated before at all.

Following a proposal from the OSCE Office in Minsk, it has been noted in the last version of the draft bill that media outlets do not account for the information that gets broadcast in live programs, the Radio "Liberty" reports.

A Coordination Board on the Media with representatives of state institutions, public associations and media outlets will be founded, Y. Kulakouski stressed in his interview to the "Interfax-West" News Agency. Provisions on the Board´s activity will be determined by the Council of Ministers of Belarus (instead of the Ministry of Information, as it was suggested before). 

A legal norm on banning violations of "generally accepted language norms" has been excluded from the document after the 2nd reading, "as no norms of the kind exist", Y. Kulakouski emphasized. A demand on barring the use of unquotable words and expressions has been included in the bill instead.

Yury Kulakouski assured the public that "the draft law regulates the activity of Internet analogues of mass media only". "They have to correspond to the printed versions. Only that they don´t have to get officially re-registered", he said.

However, the MP failed to explain to journalists how to reach full correspondence of information, presented in the printed/broadcast media and their Internet versions, the "Interfax-West" News Agency reports.

Surprisingly, specialists from the National Center for Legislation and Legal Studies at the Presidential Administration didn´t find any inaccuracies and produced no remarks or amendments to the text of the draft law, directed to them for consideration by the Belarusian MPs on June 20, 2008, the BAJ Press Service informs.

The Head of Constitutional Legislation Center´s Department Ihar Halubitski told to the BAJ Press Service that the urgent legal examination of the draft bill was a compulsory requirement only. "It happens in cases, when the Council of Ministers submits a law for consideration and simultaneously recommends the term for its legal examination. It is obvious that in this case no generally accepted terms of a fortnight or even a month wouldn´t suit", Ihar Halubitski explained.

Statement of Belarusian Association of Journalists, regarding the adoption of a new Law "On Mass Media" by the Chamber of Representatives

The Belarusian Association of Journalists expresses its protest in relation with the adoption of a new Law "On Mass Media" after the 2nd reading by the Chamber of Representatives at the National Assembly of Belarus.

Not only is the freedom of speech among the most important civil and political rights. Moreover, it forms a criterion that ensures implementation of other human rights. Consequently, in our opinion it is unacceptable to consider and adopt a legal act that infringes upon this fundamental right, stipulated in two articles of Constitution of Belarus (art. 33 and art.34), in such a hasty way. 

We are sure that such laws have to be adopted after their comprehensive consideration and discussion with all the interested people and organizations as well as on carrying out their public discussion and international expert examinations.

We would like to emphasize that the Belarusian state authorities promised to send the draft bill on the media to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly for holding a legal examination. However, they failed to keep their promises.

The haste with adoption of the media law reveals its repressive and restrictive core. The assumption gets confirmed by the contents of the legal act.

The Media Law:

- introduces the necessity of registration of Web-editions and puts control over the Internet from the side of the Ministry of Information and the Public Prosecutor´s Office;

- requires re-registration of all media outlets as soon as the law comes into force;

- broadens considerably possibilities of closing down media outlets by the state authorities;

- complicates the activity and increases the pressure on independent journalists and foreign correspondents;

We would like to remind the members of the Chamber of Representatives about their responsibility for the decisions they take and call upon the Council of Republic to turn down the Law "On the Media" and send it back for revision.

We appeal to the Belarusian and international community members with a request to express their attitude towards the legal act that infringes upon the Belarusian citizens´ right to receive and distribute the unbiased information and to express their personal views and opinions.

Adopted by the Board of Belarusian Association of Journalists

(around EUR 3,000) to the court. 

Presently, Natallia Kiman is not satisfied with the verdict. She is going to appeal against it to a superior court.

June 23, 2008 

Draft Law "On Mass Media" Sent for Legal Examination 

June 23, 2008

A draft law "On Mass Media" has been sent to the Council of Ministers of Belarus as well as to the National Center for Legislation and Legal Studies, subordinate to the Presidential Administration for a legal expertise. A corresponding decision was taken at a meeting, held by the working group of the Parliamentarian Standing Committee on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media. During the session, the Committee members discussed the law and its separate norms, taking into consideration the received proposals, comments and remarks. 

According to the official Web-site of the Chamber of Representatives of Belarus, officials from the Presidential Administration, the National Center for Legislation and Human Studies and the Ministry of Information tool part in the discussion. 

The Head of Law Center for Media Protection at BAJ Prof. Mikhail Pastukhou told in his interview to the BAJ Press Service that the Committee must have not reached the unanimous positive decision as far as the law adoption is concerned, taking into account the draft bill got returned to the initiators.  

It should be reminded that the present Parliamentarian session ends on June 28, 2008. 

The Second Reading of Draft Media Law Planned to Be Held on June 24, 2008

June 23, 2008

The Chamber of Representatives at the National Assembly of Belarus is going to have the second reading of draft Media Law on June 24, 2008. Siarhei Shlopak, a member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Rights, National Relations and Media informed the "Interfax" News Agency on Monday.  

The parliamentarian told that the proposals from the OSCE Office in Minsk and the Belarusian Association of Journalists must have been taken into consideration in the process of preparing the draft bill for its consideration in the second reading. However, he noted that he "hadn´t seen the most recent version of the draft law". S. Shlopak felt reluctant to discuss the reasons of the hasty consideration of the draft media law by the Chamber of Representatives as well as the possibilities of its approval by the Council of Republic during the running session, ending on June 28, 2008. 

"The draft law will come into force in half a year only, Therefore, this law is not connected with the election [to the Chamber of Representatives, scheduled for September 28, 2008 - "Interfax"] anyway", S. Shlopak said. 

It should be reminded that a draft law "On Mass Media" that, among other, stipulates the order of distributing mass information through the Web in the first reading on June 17, 2008. 

The BAJ Press Service