Russian blogs under legal threat?

Interesting post at Publius Pundit about a loophole in the law that could mean Russian bloggers being held to the same standards as fully fledged media publications.

Publius worries that this could lead to a crackdown on blogs.

I’m a little puzzled though, as I’d always thought it was pretty much common practice everywhere in the world that blogs be held to the same standards as media outlets – ie, don’t libel, etc.

Is there something more in this law that makes Russia stand out from the rest of the world, or is it just worries about the way in which Russia might implement the law?

Update:  Russophile has posted some more background on the law while in the comments La Russophobe posts a clarification of a couple of points relating to her original post.

As for me, well, it’s made my day to see that both a Russophile and a Russophobe seem to be in complete agreement 🙂

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16 Responses

  1. ReluctantMuscovite says:

    I agree with your comment. Why would blogs NOT be held to the same standard as media outlets? Makes no sense to me. In Germany, this is common practice — if you would, for example, promote holocaust denial, you would expose yourself to legal consequences regardless of the medium you publish in. In fact, Germany applies it’s laws to foreign based internet sites.

  2. Applying a “Media Law” on blogs would treat blogs, which are mostly privatly owned, like commercial newspapers, journals, tv-stations or radio channels. I do not know how this law looks like in Russia but I had a look at the German “Mediengesetz”. Should this German law (simply look at the large number of paragraphs applying on “media”) be similar to the Russian law, and should there be the intention to apply all those paragraphs on bloggers who impossibly can live up to all the obligations resulting from this law, then it would be dead easy to shut down blogs for “violating” the law.

  3. Tim Newman says:

    I don’t think you can apply a media law to blogs. For starters, a lot of blogs are anonymously written meaning it will be extremely difficult to identify who to prosecute. Secondly, were a blog shut down it could pop up again on a different URL within minutes. And thirdly, many of the blogs which a Russian might object to will be written by a person who lives outside of Russia with the blog being hosted on a server outside of Russia.

  4. ReluctantMuscovite says:

    Let’s see…

    § 1. (1) Im Sinn der Bestimmungen dieses Bundesgesetzes ist

    1. “Medium”: jedes Mittel zur Verbreitung von Mitteilungen oder Darbietungen mit gedanklichem Inhalt in Wort, Schrift, Ton oder Bild an einen größeren Personenkreis im Wege der Massenherstellung oder der Massenverbreitung;

    Uh-huh. I think that sounds like a blog. Check.

    2. “periodisches Medium”: ein periodisches Medienwerk, ein Rundfunkprogramm oder sonst ein Medium, das in vergleichbarer Gestaltung wenigstens viermal im Kalenderjahr wiederkehrend verbreitet wird;

    Clarification:
    2. „periodisches Medium“: ein periodisches Medienwerk oder ein periodisches elektronisches Medium;

    …hm… unless you update your blog only three times a year…. check.

    6. “Medienunternehmen”: ein Unternehmen, in dem die inhaltliche Gestaltung des Mediums besorgt wird und seine Herstellung und Verbreitung besorgt oder veranlaĂźt werden;

    …. hm. I guess that depends on what is meant by “unternehmen”…

    I think much of the German Mediengesetz fits the bill for blogs (except those sections referring to “unternehmen”)

  5. Tim:I donÂ’t think you can apply a media law to blogs. For starters, a lot of blogs are anonymously written meaning it will be extremely difficult to identify who to prosecute. Secondly, were a blog shut down it could pop up again on a different URL within minutes. And thirdly, many of the blogs which a Russian might object to will be written by a person who lives outside of Russia with the blog being hosted on a server outside of Russia.

    Should the e.g. German “Mediengesetz” apply on blogs, anonmyously written blogs would per se be illegal as (legal) “Media” are required to have an “Impressum”, i.e. are obliged to openly name those wo are responsible for the content (owner, editors ….) and have to publish their “Gerichtsstand” (legal residence) ….

    I doubt that any public proscecutor e.g. in Germany would face any difficulties to have companies like Google or WordPress give the data desired (regarding a blogger). Some years ago the general manager of Compuserve Germany was ordered to remove contens of a Compuserve hosted website. He said he couldn’t as the site was hosted by an US based server.

    The judge didn’t care and sentenced the guy to (IIRC) 2 years in prison. Well, the guy actually never went to jail as the judge’s ruling was “overpowered” by a superior court but the website disappeared anyway.

    Never say never …

  6. RM: I think much of the German Mediengesetz fits the bill for blogs (except those sections referring to “unternehmen”)

    Depends on what “Gesetzbuch” you apply …

    Handelsgesetzbuch: “Unternehmen” = company
    BĂĽrgerliches Gesetzbuch: “Unternehmen” = undertaking.

    Anyway … one single commercial ad on a blog and this blog is a “company” making money.

  7. Tim Newman says:

    I doubt that any public proscecutor e.g. in Germany would face any difficulties to have companies like Google or WordPress give the data desired (regarding a blogger).

    The problem they’d have with WordPress is that you can host it on a private server. If Germany, or any other state, started closing down anonymous blogs and hounding their hosting providers, a market would pop up within minutes which would guarantee anonymous hosting. All the German authorities could do is put up a firewall to prevent people in Germany reading certain sites, and anyone who’s lived in the Middle East will tell you how popular or successful that is.

  8. Tim, I agree to the points you make. But if had to bet on “Bloggers” vs “Government” I wouldn’t put any money on the bloggers. Particularly not in countries with the reputation being “less democratic”.

    Although Germany is definitly not a “rogue state” I’ve still put that “legal disclaimer” on my blog. You never know who might come up with something … and once you’re trapped between the mill-stones … oh well.

  9. Tim Newman says:

    But if had to bet on “Bloggers” vs “Government” I wouldn’t put any money on the bloggers.

    I agree in the case of a government against bloggers within the country in question. But unless every government unites in its opposition to bloggers, provided at least one country is prepared to host webservers without interfering with the content, then the bloggers will always have a platform.

    This is why the US has made sure the UN doesn’t get its mitts on the IP allocation system, currently controlled by the US: many Americans, ever the paranoid about governments bodies, see it as an attempt to regulate the internet on a global scale.

    It’s a bit like tax havens, in a way. Provided one country is willing to provide a tax free savings vehicle, there is not a great deal any other country can do about it.

    I predict a lot of clumsy, cack-handed attempts by governments to regulate online content over the next decade, only to see their attempts thwarted by computer geeks who are always one step ahead. I for one will be on the side of the geeks. I’m a blogger, and I generally detest governments.

  10. Tim: IÂ’m a blogger, and I generally detest governments.

    Yep, again I agree. Let’s see what happens when “capitalism” gets involved. If you have a look at e.g. China with its booming Internet market you’ll see how many companies and providers try to get a foothold.

    If you were the CEO of such a company, what would you do when having to act in regard of your shareholders ? Would you practice “democracy” or would you “sacrifice” a blogger or two when the “government” forces you to decide whether to “cooperate” or to be locked out (out of the market) ?

    Pekunia non olet ?

  11. Tim Newman says:

    Oh, we’re already seeing the likes of Google and Microsoft actively assisting the Chinese government in hounding citizens who they perceive as a threat. I have no doubt whatsoever that others will similarly abandon all principles. But hopefully not all. Hopefully.

  12. As I am the author of the Publius Pundit post being referred to, I’d like to point out that the author of this post has misunderstood our content.

    Our post says nothing about bloggers being held responsible for their content in a proper libel action. It discusses a new policy that bloggers be required to REGISTER with the government if they dare to engage in news reporting, as a newspaper must do. There is no such requirement in the United States (both Publius Pundit and La Russophobe freely report the news without registration) nor, I believe, in any civilized country. The linked-to article clearly states: “Two local Web sites have been punished for failing to register as media outlets.” They were not punished for their content, they were punished for failing to comply with bureaucratic requirements they didn’t even know about.

    For your information, blogger Rachmankov, who called President Putin a “phallic symbol,” was not sued by Putin for libel. Instead, he was sued by a government agency for breaking regulations that control political speech in an effort to silence him. All bloggers ought to stand in solidarity with Rachmankov, for they may be next.

    Frankly, I find it both surprising and disappointing that a blogger would take the side of the government in such a dispute, particularly a government with such a sordid reputation on freedom of speech as Russia. Also a bit disappointing that the article in quesiton wasn’t reviewed a bit more carefully before conclusions were drawn — that is often the cause of “confusion.”

  13. Andy says:

    Thanks Kim, for clarifying the issue regarding libel and registration. To be honest, the post was more me thinking aloud, and asking a question, than a direct critique of your post or an attempt to particularly take the side of the Russian government.

    Interestingly, from the comments above, it appears that Germany has laws which, in many respects are similar to Russia’s (not quite that they require registration, but they do seem to prohibit anonymity, by requiring bloggers to publish their address). I suspect a lot of European countries have similarly odd and seemingly ‘restrictive’ clauses in their laws somewhere that might apply to blogs.

  14. I agree that it is onerous that blogs register, but as I noted in my post (http://www.russophile.com/russia_blog/524-russian_media_law_clearly_requires_registration.html) Russian law clearly requires registration. Additionally, I would like to point out that I also published an article (http://www.russophile.com/russia_blog/451-russian_police_crackdown_blogs_using_media_law.html) which shows that the Reuters article referred to was an overstatement of the situation. Additionally, KimÂ’s article even further exaggerated the situation by implicating the Kremlin when the federal government was not mentioned at all in the Reuters’ article.

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