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Governing Information Flows During War: A Comparative Study of Content Governance and Media Policy Responses After Russia’s Attack against Ukraine

Author: Susi, M., Benedek, W., Fischer-Lessiak, G., Kettemann, M. C., Schippers, B. V., & Viljanen, J. (Eds.)
Published in: Hamburg: Verlag Hans-Bredow-Institut (GDHRNet Working Paper), #4
Year: 2022
Type: Other publications
DOI: 10.21241/ssoar.78580

Media governance has changed substantially after Russia's attack on Ukraine. A digital Iron Curtain was put up, as social media companies withdrew or were banned in Russia and Russian state sponsored news outlets were the targets of EU sanctions and deplatforming. This study analyses how 29 states, including 18 EU members, have dealt with the media governance questions related to the informational dimension of Russia’s war on Ukraine. It appears that in only one country - Finland - did large private media outlets act quickly on their own initiative after the start of the military aggression against Ukraine to suspend the distribution of Russian news channels. There are examples that some companies in Austria and Latvia took similar actions, but the scale is smaller. In five countries - Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland - the national authorities issued instructions to suspend Russian media outlets shortly after the invasion, prior to the 1 March 2022 Council Regulation 2022/350 and even before the President of the European Commission announced on 27 February 2022 the intention to implement such a measure across the EU. Given the shortness of this "time window" it would be overly formal to give too much meaning to the question "Who acted first?" - private media companies or national governments. What matters is that access to certain Russian and Belarussian media outlets was suspended within a very short period as a result of coordinated activity between national authorities and private actors. There are no reports of non-compliance with the respective state instructions. Most EU Member State responses were confined to the transposition of the sanctions imposed against Russia at the supranational level, including the ban on Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, without taking further, more wide-ranging action. The transposition of Council Regulation 2022/350 was typically accompanied by communications by the respective regulatory agencies in EU Member States to media companies and internet providers on their new duties emanating from the sanctions. Hence, the role of regulatory agencies was mostly confined to informing norm addressees of the new European legislation. The majority of non-EU states, (in our survey Albania, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Iceland, Israel, Moldova, Norway, Serbia, South Africa, and Turkey), have not imposed any sanctions at all. Outside the EU, the United Kingdom stands out: the media regulator Ofcom opened 27 investigations against RT, and the UK’s public service broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), halted all content licensing with its Russian customers. In contrast, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina chose to rely on general liability regulations for spreading disinformation and not conforming with the journalistic principles of objective information and transparency. Most governments did not propose or introduce domestic legislation aimed at regulating platforms, social media accounts or TV channels in response to the war in Ukraine. A small number of states located within geographical proximity to Russia or Belarus introduced legislative changes; for example, via amendments to existing laws, such as Estonia and Latvia; by introducing a state of emergency that extends to the control of broadcasting and social media, such as Lithuania; or by conferring additional powers on security agencies to monitor the media coverage of the war, such as Moldova. In addition, several governments asked their respective national regulators to ban or block access to Russian TV stations. For example, in Belgium, the Flemish (regional) parliament asked the government to take all possible measures against Russian disinformation, and to advocate for a stronger EU-wide framework against disinformation

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Matthias C. Kettemann, Prof. Dr. LL.M. (Harvard)

Forschungsgruppenleiter und Assoziierter Forscher: Globaler Konstitutionalismus und das Internet

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