Лінкі ўнівэрсальнага доступу

Internet news websites in Belarus will be considered regular media outlets as of the new year, according to a bill approved by the country’s parliamentary lower chamber on December 17.

Should the bill become law, any web site may be blocked after receiving two warnings from the Information Ministry in the course of a year.

Information Minister Lilija Ananich claimed the bill would make accurate information more accessible, ensure national security and protect «state interests.»

But critics such as Belarusian Association of Journalists deputy chairman Andrej Bastunec said the sudden amendment to the media law is an effort by the government to exert even greater control of the media space in the coming presidential election year.

Under the bill, online news providers would be prohibited from publishing extremist information, calls for a war or content that damages the interests of the state in other ways, said Ananich.

News sites would be required to remove their reports and publish corrections no later than the next day after receiving an order from the authorities.

As for other amendments, the bill would prohibit foreign states and foreign individuals from holding more than a twenty percent stake in Belarusian publishing companies. The current limitation is thirty percent.

Ananich expressed confidence that such a move would protect Belarus from «destructive outside influences.»

Journalists present in the House of Representatives on Wednesday were not allowed to see the text of the bill or even its summary, BelaPAN reports.

Bastunec added that the procedure for blocking web sites is yet to be specified.