No More #FakeNews in Russia

By: Ashley Martin

On March 18, 2019, two laws passed by the Russian Parliament were signed into law by President Putin.[1] The goal of these laws is to combat fake news.[2] These anti-fake news laws impose fines on websites that knowingly distribute fake news and prevent access to websites that have been known to publish fake news.[3] Federal Law on Amending Article 15-3 of the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies, and Protection of Information provides the definition of fake news under Russian law.[4] Fake news is defined as:

 

 socially significant false information distributed under the guise of truthful messages if they create a threat that endangers people’s lives, health, or property; create possibilities for mass violations of public order or public security; or possibly hinder the work of transportation and social infrastructure, credit institutions, lines of communications, industry, and energy enterprises.[5]

 

Federal Law on Amending Article 15-3 sets forth requirements if a website has distributed fake news.[6] The Roskomnadzor—the agency tasked with censorship and preventing fake news—will notify the website that it has posted fake news.[7] Once notice is received, steps must be taken to remove the information from the website.[8] If compliance fails or is not adhered to, then the Roskomnadzor will take steps to limit access to the publication, including limiting access to the publication’s website.[9]

 

Fines are imposed under the Law on Amending the Code of Administrative violations.[10] Fines range from 30,00 to 500,000 rubles.[11] A variety of factors will be considered in the imposition of fines.[12] For example, if the publication of fake news causes the death of a person, then heavier fines will be imposed.[13] Repeat offenders can be imposed fines upwards of 1.5 million roubles.[14]

 

While protecting the public and its safety is a goal of these two laws, critics are concerned this is a method of censoring opposing opinions.[15] This law is aimed at content that is disrespectful.[16] It is unclear what will qualify as disrespectful. Has the breadth of Russia’s anti-fake news gone too far?

 

Russia is not the only country with laws restricting fake news.[17] France, Germany, Malaysia, and the European Union (EU) all have laws governing fake news.[18] As of April 2019, Singapore’s parliament was considering a law on fake news.[19] However, these countries with fake news laws have limitations when content can be removed.[20] Germany’s law permitted social media sites to remove hate speech.[21] France’s anti-fake news law is limited to three months before an election, and the decision to remove content is made by a judge.[22]

 

With Russia’s anti-fake news laws, there are no restrictions on the content type or time frame.[23] The only content that will be targeted is content that “presents ‘clear disrespect for society, government, state symbols, the constitution, and government institutions.’”[24] Unlike France’s law, which requires the removal of content to be made by a judge, Russia’s law allows content to be removed without a judicial decision.[25] Determination of whether a violation of Federal Law on Amending Article 15-3 occurred is made by an agency, again not via a judicial decision.[26]

 

These anti-fake news laws are a departure from Russia’s freedom of publication on the internet.[27] Since 2012, the Russian government has clamped down on freedom of speech.[28] These new laws appear to further this clamp down on free speech. These new laws may be in violation of Russia’s Constitution. Chapter 2, Article 29 provides “[e]veryone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech.[29] Because these new laws permit the government to remove content that disrespects the government or society, the government has significantly limited speech.[30]

 

The Constitution also provides: “Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way.”[31] These new laws permit the government to restrict access to websites that violate Federal Law on Amending Article 15-3 without a judicial decision.[32] The Constitution also explicitly bans censorship.[33] Article 29(5) explicitly states: “The freedom of mass communication shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be banned.”[34] Federal Law on Amending Article 15-3 directly contradicts this right. Other than the limitations provided under Article 29(2), the Constitution does not limit what is and is not free speech.[35]

 

Only time will tell if the Russian government will use these laws to censor opposing views. Given the breadth of Russia’s law and lack of judicial checks, there is a risk for abuse. It is unclear how Russia will reconcile these news laws with the Constitution’s protection of free speech. Once this law is put in action, perhaps the government will realize too much content is being censored and will follow Germany’s route and contemplate changes to their law. Or perhaps, nothing will change and these laws will be a method to restrict opposing views of the government.

 

 


[1] Astghik Grigoryan, Russia: Russian President Signs Anti-Fake News Law, Law Library of Congress (Apr. 11, 2019), https://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/russia-russian-president-signs-anti-fake-news-laws/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. (internal citation omitted).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Emily Tamkin, With Putin’s signature, ‘fake news’ bill becomes law, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/03/18/with-putins-signature-fake-news-bill-becomes-law/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.74f8b8681f9b.

[15] Id.

[16] Shannon Van Sant, Russia Criminalizes The Spread of Online News Which ‘Disrespects’ The Government, NPR (Mar. 18, 2019), https://www.npr.org/2019/03/18/704600310/russia-criminalizes-the-spread-of-online-news-which-disrespects-the-government.

[17] Fathin Ungku, Factbox: ‘Fake News’ laws around the world, Reuters (Apr. 2, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-singapore-politics-fakenews-factbox/factbox-fake-news-laws-around-the-world-idUSKCN1RE0XN.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id. Germany found that even with this restriction, too much content was being removed, and is not reevaluating this law. Id.

[22] Id.; Michael Ross-Florentino, France passes controversial ‘fake news’ law, EuroNews (Nov. 22, 2018), https://www.euronews.com/2018/11/22/france-passes-controversial-fake-news-law.

[23] Grigoryan, supra note 1.

[24] Van Sant, supra note 16.

[25] Tamkin, supra note 14.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Adam Maida, Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression, Human Rights Watch (July 18, 2017), https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/07/18/online-and-all-fronts/russias-assault-freedom-expression.

[29] The Constitution of the Russian Federation, ch. 2, art. 29(1) available at http://www.constitution.ru/en/10003000-03.htm [hereafter Constitution].

[30] See id.; see also Grigoryan, supra note 1.

[31] Constitution, supra note 29, art. 29(4).

[32] Grigoryan, supra note 1.

[33] Constitution, supra note 29, art. 29(5).

[34] Id.

[35] Id. art. 29(2). “The propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred and strife shall not be allowed. The propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy shall be banned.” Id.

 

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