Tough new media law only needs president's signature

Reporters Without Borders today voiced fears about a tough new media law in Belarus that is only waiting for President Alexander Lukachenko's signature to come into force.

The restrictive new law was approved on 28 June by a near unanimous 48 votes to one by the Belarus Council of the Republic (the upper chamber of the National Assembly) after being adopted at the first and second reading in the lower house.

"We repeat our deep concern about the deterioration in press freedom in Belarus. We urge President Lukachenko to reject this new law which steps up the already strong pressure on the press in Belarus", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The new law will force all media to undergo a new registration process, provides for stricter state control of online publications and simplifies official closure of a media. Reporters Without Borders already spelled out the reasons for its concern in a release on 19 June.

The adoption of the first and second readings of the law prompted numerous protests within Belarus but also internationally and the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) put forward amendments to the draft law. Five of their 30 suggestions were taken into account but the "most contentious parts stayed in" said BAJ.

Once signed into law by the president, it will come into effect six months after being published in the official newspaper.

The European Commission on 1st July condemned the adoption of the law by the Belarus Parliament. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, ""I deplore the adoption by Belarus parliament of a new media law that will further restrict the freedom of the press in Belarus. 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."

Reporters Without Borders joined Article 19 on 24 June in sending a letter to the president of Belarus and the council of minister to express deep anxiety about this new law.