Uzbekistan Defines Blogs as Mass Media

by Nathan Hamm on 1/31/2007 · 6 comments

Well, that at least is one of the results of changes to Uzbekistan’s media law. The law now defines websites as mass media, requiring registration with the state and provision of all content and the names of those involved in creating content for sites.

According to IWPR, since the law went into effect on January 15, Uzbekistan’s internet service providers have started blocking more sites discussing Uzbekistan. So far, it does not appear that is one of them (knock on wood).

One thing that is rather unfortunate about the law from the perspective of trying to encourage blogging in Central Asia is that it apparently defines all websites as mass media in Uzbekistan. In Kazakhstan, the media law leaves blogs in a gray area (though not entirely free from government meddling). During last September’s roundtable on blogging in Almaty, many participants were extremely hung up on finding the line dividing blogs and mass media and on placing obligations on bloggers.

Now, no one should boldly strike out with the intention of flouting the law. One should be aware of how the law in one’s jurisdiction deals with blogging. But at the same time, blogging is at least partially a reaction to the staleness of mass media. And unfortunately Uzbekistan has put into law the requirement that its internet space share the shortcomings of its print and broadcast media while also making sure that reluctance to blog will grow.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Laurence January 31, 2007 at 11:05 am

If an Uzbek blog is hosted in another country, for example Russia or the USA, would the new law cover that? I wonder about issues of extraterritoriality…

Nick January 31, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Well, it could be argued that just because a blog is written in Uzbek doesn’t mean it is Uzbek e.g. a blog written by an ethnic Uzbek in Afghanistan or Xinjiang. I mean, is Uzbekistan Neweurasia an Uzbek blog? However, I think that the issue is not blogs per se, but the people behind them i.e. bloggers. It’s another way for the government to keep tabs on potential dissenters and threaten them with the law.

Laurence January 31, 2007 at 1:27 pm

I guess that’s what keeps services like Anonymizer in business…

Nathan January 31, 2007 at 2:12 pm

I don’t know what the law says, but I imagine that it is territorial and within regards to the .uz domain. They mention this applying to foreign media, so I imagine the case could be made that it applies to if an author is writing from Uzbekistan despite the fact that the site is physically located in Florida and the owner/editor lives in Seattle. Now whether or not that’s how it really works or will be applied I do not know. It is much easier to just block the foreign sites, but it could probably be used to prosecute Uzbek nationals writing for foreign websites.

Nick January 31, 2007 at 4:23 pm

I fear there may be international precedent in that British internet businessman have been arrested by US authorities for breaking gambling laws even though their websites are hosted outside the USA. I bring this up not to pick on the US, rather to illustrate that the trans-national nature of the internet doesn’t seem to mean much in the eyes of lawmakers.

Moreover, this latest action by the Uzbek government fits into a pattern of laws requiring compulsory registration for e.g. religious groups, political parties etc/ It’s almost as if an organisation isn’t registered, then it must be illegal. I foresee a modern rewriting of Mullah Nasruddin stories in which the Mullah is prosecuted for running, I dunno, an illegal political party but argues that he isn’t breaking any laws because if he was running a political party, it would be registered, right? Or am I just being silly?

Nathan January 31, 2007 at 4:37 pm

I think it means something different to lawmakers in different states, and that what it means is extremely situational. In common law countries, this will, I imagine, eventually get sorted out as case law develops. And in continental Europe, precise and elaborate laws will surely be written if they have not been already. In the meantime though, I imagine that most law enforcement bodies across the world will interpret statutes quite restrictively.

I think you’re quite right about registration in Uzbekistan. When I lived there, we liked to joke that because the legal code is so vague, all that is not specifically allowed by law must be assumed to be illegal.

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