Lukashenka approves changes to law on media: what's new?

1. Websites and newspapers could be closed down without a trial.

"Earlier, to suspend publication of a newspaper, the Ministry of Information had to go to court, but now it can close the site at will. It can even be done without warning, if the Ministry of Information decides that the site provides information, forbidden in the territory of the Republic of Belarus," lawyer Lyudmila Chekina told Euroradio.

Access restrictions to a number of sites in Belarus was there before. However, the so-called "black list" only included computers of government agencies. At home, people could access Charter97, Belpartisan, blog of Lipkovich and even sites with porn and drugs. From 1 January 2015, situation may change - the sites will be closed for absolutely everyone.

Another caveat is extremism charges. Previously, they could only be laid by the court, just remember the story of Belarus Press photo album. From 2015, the Ministry of Information resolution will be enough.

2. Foreign news sites can also have access to them  blocked.

The issue is about the new rules of information dissemination. From 1 January, 2015 these activities require a permit, all distributors will be put in a special register.

"It turns out that the foreign media disseminating information on the territory of the Republic of Belarus without changing its contents must be licensed. And technically it turns out that the Ministry may limit access to foreign news sites because they do not have a license," says Lyudmila Chekina.

3. Bloggers and users of social networks are also the media now.

It is formal, but still true. Everyone who somehow disseminates information on the Internet, will be considered the media. Moreover, in contrast to the recent Russian law, in Belarus the minimum audience of blogs is not spelled. Lyudmila Chekina says that the reasons to block access to the blog are the same as for a major news website.

"Under law, every website spreading information is considered media. And the same measures that will be applied to the sites of legal entities, can be now applied to blogs."

While it is unclear what will happen with social networks - Facebook or Twitter will probably not be blocked because of one or a few more users. A single person can be banned for good only by social network administration.

4. New challenges in distributing independent newspapers.

Andrei Bastunets, lawyer of Belarusian Association of Journalists, spoke about the challenges. In his opinion, the creation of distributor register will make traders abandon the sale of newspapers in their stores and outlets. Earlier, Narodnaya Volya was sold as a regular item, now it will be necessary to obtain a special permission.

"I believe that creating a registry of print and electronic media distributors is a serious thing. It is only presented as creation of the registry. But in fact, now everyone who distributes the media will have to register with the Ministry of Information," says Bastunets.

Why amend the law "On media"?

Andrei Bastunets believes that there are two reasons, with each one being more important than the other.

"The first one is the approaching election. The second one, and perhaps it is in fact the main one, is the economic situation already felt in the country," he said.

Amendments to the law "On Media" will take effect on January 1, 2015. Judging by the last week of 2014, journalists and editors of even apolitical sites may have difficult times ahead.