Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the withdrawal of a Kyrgyz bill intended to combat the “manipulation of information” online because it would have a disastrous impact on free speech and press freedom, and instead urges the Kyrgyz authorities to promote other mechanisms to achieve this goal.
Submitted by two parliamentarians for public debate on 14 May, this radical proposal would block access to all online information “likely” to be false or inaccurate. An undefined “authorized public body” would decide which content should be blocked, and the blocking would be carried out by the Internet access provider or the owner of the offending webpage or website.
The blocking would continue until the website had taken down the content presumed to be false or inaccurate or until a court ruled on its accuracy and either ordered its permanent removal or ordered the unblocking of access.
“Under international law, a public authority may never be given the power to decide what is true or false and the free speech rights of an individual or media may never be restricted on the grounds of falsity or inaccuracy without reference to a court,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“As well as violating a right guaranteed by article 31 of the Kyrgyz Constitution, granting such powers could also lead to abuses and to acts of censorship. We therefore call for this bill’s withdrawal.”
Under the proposed bill, all website or webpage owners would be legally obliged to prevent the dissemination of false or inaccurate information, to prevent access to content banned by the law, and to moderate posted comments. They would also be required to ensure that their name, initials and email address appeared somewhere on the webpage.
Under the bill, all Internet access providers would also be required to keep all user and traffic data for six months (including reception, transmission, delivery and/or processing of voice, written, visual, audio and other electronic messages) and make it available to the police and judicial authorities.
Such data should only be made available when authorized by a court or else it could be used for police surveillance and information-gathering purposes.
RSF recommends that Kyrgyz authorities seeking to combat online disinformation should instead promote self-regulatory mechanisms such as the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) that encourage respect for journalistic standards and ethics.
Launched by RSF and its partners, the JTI is a set of standards for reliable, trustworthy journalism with indicators that allow individual media outlets to assess themselves, to improve their practices to satisfy the standards, and to publish their evaluation results. The standards covered range from transparency of media ownership and revenue sources to correction procedures and other good practices.
Kyrgyzstan is ranked 82nd out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.