June 27, 2008

Belarus: OSCE Urges Upper House to Spurn “Restrictive” Media Law

Text of press release from Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 27 June

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti today called on the upper chamber of Belarus's parliament not to adopt a draft law that would further restrict media freedom in the country.

"Unfortunately, against expectations in and outside Belarus, this draft establishes further obstacles to the development of free media in the country," said Haraszti.

On 17 June, the draft Law on the Mass Media was adopted by the Chamber of Representatives, the Parliament's lower chamber, without prior consultations with civil society. On 24 June, the draft law passed the second reading in the lower chamber with only insignificant changes. It now awaits approval by the Council of the Republic on 28 June and the President's signature.

On 18 June, the Representative on Freedom of the Media submitted a review of the draft law, detailing the shortcomings of the draft and offering ways of correction. Haraszti referred to several media freedom concerns regarding the draft.

"The draft further extends the government's right to warn, suspend and close down media outlets," he said. "A fuzzy requirement of 'compliance with reality' for media materials was also introduced. We found in the draft complicated, burdensome systems of media registration and journalist accreditation. The draft law does not offer sufficient measures to prevent monopolization of the media. It does not protect in practice journalists' confidential sources. It opens the possibility for restrictive future regulations on internet-based media."

"I urge the Council of the Republic to return the draft media law to the Chamber of Representatives for further deliberation. I also propose that any upcoming media legislation is carried out with the involvement of non-governmental organizations and the journalistic community of Belarus," said Haraszti.

"I regret that almost none of the recommendations made by my Office were included in the second draft of the law. I hope that my concerns will be incorporated in an upcoming draft, and that this version of the law will go substantially further in meeting Belarus's international obligations on freedom of the media."

Haraszti's Office has prepared a review of the draft law which can be found at: http://www.osce.org/documents/rfm/2008/06/ 31899_en.pdf

Originally published by OSCE website, Vienna, in English 27 Jun 08.

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