Ontornet Meets with Minister of Information

On March 19, Ontornet met with Minister of Information M. Walid Daouk to discuss the latest law he submitted to the cabinet on March 7, the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act (LIRA) (مشروع قانون للإعلام الإلكتروني).

At the beginning of the meeting, Minister Daouk acknowledged that he should have met and consulted the online community before presenting the law to the cabinet; however his action was driven by his need to fill an urgent legislative gap concerning internet laws.

Ontornet: Why did you withdraw the law from the cabinet agenda?

Minister Daouk: The news that the law was withdrawn is totally wrong, the law was not withdrawn. When discussing it in the cabinet meeting, it was pointed out that there are several laws, and I was asked to review it. The law was referred to the Committee in charge of Electronic Transactions who is currently reviewing it. It will be discussed, once again, in the ministerial cabinet.


I am truly open to feedback from the online community, and ready to discuss the use of words. I also don’t mind taking their comments and concerns into consideration while reviewing the law. What I ultimately care about is having a good modern law for the greater national good.

Ontornet: There are different types of websites: the news websites (tayyar.org, NowLebanon, Elnashra, etc), personal blogs (BeirutSpring, HummusNation, etc), as well as NGO/Initiative websites (Ontornet, Nasawiya, etc) along with many others. The law you submitted does not differentiate between the different types of websites, does that mean that it applies equally to all types of websites?

Minister Daouk: Today, we all know that the number of websites is constantly increasing. There is nothing in the current Lebanese law that tackles Electronic media, and this constitutes a serious gap in the Lebanese Law: this is the main motivation behind the law. We only now have the Publications Law in our hands, even though I know that there are 2 laws being prepared now, one by Maharat and PM Ghassan Moukheiber, and another one by MP Robert Ghanem. However my problem is that the legislative process in Lebanon is Lebanon is taking way too long.

So, as I said, the objective for now is to build on what we have (The Publications Law of 1962) by adding a part that will allow the publications Law to interact with electronic media. This part consists of defining what a website is, and of giving the website owner the choice of either declaring his website to the Ministry of Information or not. It is an elective law; no one is forced to comply with it. If one chooses to declare his website he is in return getting protection.

Ontornet: Is there any place where it is mentioned that it the Law is elective?

Minister Daouk: In the legislation writing process, you don’t mention literally that a Law is elective.
But had it been obligatory, the text would have stated “electronic websites MUST” (يقتضي على من يريد النشر بواسطة الإعلام الإلكتروني أن )

Ontornet: Since this is an elective law, what are the incentives for people to register?

Minister Daouk: There are 2 pillars: duties (identification) and rights (IP protection). Once you submit your identification information, you get the Intellectual property protection and you become liable in case you committed any copyright infringement.

Another incentive is that we are creating a way to show credibility by creating this label which is important for brands and online professionals. This is similar to AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) and offers tracability and a kind of self-control.

Ontornet: So you are affirming that people are free to either opt in on this law or not?

Minister Daouk: Yes, indeed. Nothing would change for those who do not register. The law offers the honest more credibility and protections.

Ontornet: Do you consider you are asking websites and electronic media to obtain a “License”?

Minister Daouk: No way on earth! It is just identification. It would be total imbecility if someone wanted to impose licensing of electronic media.

Ontornet: Why did you state limits on the numbers of website owned?

Minister Daouk: Where is this stated? [After reading the paragraph] This is because it is something that already exists in the Publications Law. I needed terms of references and wanted to make sure no distortions were created, so we extended an existing law, one we know well.

Ontornet: Even though Publications Law dates back to 1962 and should not be applied to online media in the first place?

Minister Daouk: I agree on this point, but efforts concentrated on finding an existing “vehicle” that could be used to fill in the gap we currently have, until a better and final media law is issued.

I strongly believe that electronic media is evolving fast and that a law dating from 1962 may not correspond to it but I wanted to set two main values or pillars: someone identifies his information website at the Ministry and gets Intellectual Property protection in return.

Besides, any modification or addition to L.I.R.A occurs through the issuance of decrees within the Ministerial Cabinet, rather than having to draft adopting a new law in the Parliament. This was done specifically to be able to keep up with the speed and fast evolution of media law.

Ontornet: The opening paragraph mentions the respect of public morals and gambling – how is this judged or enforced and does it have any fallouts on freedom of expression?

Minister Daouk: If someone is registering his information website at the Ministry of Information, it means that his content cannot deal with online gambling or break general public morals which is something done in all countries.

Ontornet: Does this law include for example content published on official Facebook pages?

Minister Daouk: I don’t care where content is published – whether Facebook, personal site, blog, etc. It is just that the Ministry cannot give identification to something that deals with gambling or breaking public morals

Ontornet: The big political website are the first people who won’t submit for identification since they are protected and nothing forces them, true?

Minister Daouk: I am not really that sure because they have incentive to protect their content.
For example, few days ago I read about a lawsuit against the Free Patriotic Movement website- so anyway, those websites are famous, well known and can be sued. By submitting their info they get extra protection.

The Legal Expertise

In light of its meeting with Minister Daouk, ONTORNET discussed the content of the Law with a Legal Expert. The expert noted the following problems with the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act – L.I.R.A. (مشروع قانون للإعلام الإلكتروني)

The Format

The Law is only one-page long and contains 8 articles. It gives very few details for such a highly technical and complex field.

Inaccuracies

Article 6 refers to the Law on Publications (قانون المطبوعات) dated 14 July 1962 whereas it provides the number of Law 382/94 which concerns Audiovisual Broadcasting (قانون البث التلفيزيوني والإذاعي). This creates confusion as to which law applies to the employees of information websites. It also does not specify which particular articles within this law(s) will actually apply to those employees.

Loose and Incomplete Definitions

The law defines 3 concepts in the first set of articles:

  • “Electronic Media” (الوسائل الإلكترونية) is defined in Article 1.
  • “Electronic Communication” (التواصل الإلكتروني) is defined in Articles 2 and 3 without any apparent reason, since it is not used anywhere else in the Law. What is then the need for this definition?
  • “Websites” ( (الموقع الإلكترونيare defined in Article 4 which sets the conditions of website registration in the Ministry of Information.

However, the main “regulation” articles, Article 6 and 7, use the new concept of “Information Websites” (المواقع الإلكترونية الإعلامية) without any previous definition.

This leaves a number of questions unanswered: What will be considered as an “information website” (and thus will have to comply with Articles 6 and 7)? Is a personal blog considered as an “information website”? Is a public forum considered as an “information website”?

The Extent/Coverage of the Law

Minister Daouk assured ONTORNET that the law is optional and only applies to registered websites as defined in Article 4. In other words, only if an author chooses to register his website will he have to comply with its provisions. See below tweet dated 22/03/2012 “@Walid_Daouk draft law aims to give persons who identify themselves optional more credibility and tracability for their websites’ content.”

However, the optional nature of the Law is nowhere mentioned in the text. Furthermore, the text does not provide clear answers to the below important questions.

  • Do Articles 6 and 7 apply only to websites defined in Article 4 (i.e websites registered in the Ministry)?
  • Article 1 prohibits Electronic Media to publish immoral content. Question: Does this article only concern registered websites, or all websites? In case Article 1 applies to all websites, then there is a need to clarify the concept of “public internet content”, and whether for instance social network communications are included or not. There is also a need to provide clear legal protections in order to ensure freedom of speech and online access to information.

Such opacity might give way to a considerable amount of confusion and misinterpretations in the implementation of the law.

Omissions

  • The Law does not include mentions of a timeline for further decrees regulating its implementation.
  • The Law does not include transitory provisions that are more than necessary in the field. For example, do the provisions apply to content published before the law was issued?
  • The Law clearly does not take into consideration international norms in the field.

Non-Technical

The Law does not provide for essential technical definitions and aspects that are specific to the field. Below are a few examples:

  • Domain: Does it apply only to websites registered to .lb domain?
  • It refers to old (1962) publication norms that are not compatible with the modern nature and technicalities of online publications.

The Intellectual Property Rationale

L.I.R.A does not seem to give any added value to already existing law in the media field. When asked about the purpose of this law, Minister Daouk explained that it will allow media websites to register in the Ministry and benefit from Intellectual Property protection.

However, the Intellectual Property protection provided for in Article 7 only concerns Intellectual Property violations in advertisements that are published on the websites. Moreover, registering in the Ministry and naming a representative manager who can be pursued for any violations, means that registering will not protect the website’s Intellectual Property; it will only make it easier to sue the website if it commits any Intellectual Property violation. In other words, there is absolutely no incentive for companies to register.

Bottom Line

Once again, Lebanese internet Users are faced with a “Good, Bad and Ugly” situation.

The Good: For once, a minister in the current Government takes his job seriously and drafts a Law proposal.

The Bad: The Law itself. It has no added value and its inconsistencies risk to create serious confusions and misinterpretations upon implementation.

The Ugly: The Government is going ahead with L.I.R.A. despite the alarm calls of concerned actors.

 

Ontornet team will be meeting with Minister Daouk on March 19 at 2:30 to share the community’s questions and concerns about the proposed Lebanese Internet Regulation bill and to have a discussion around the new regulatory framework the government is planning.

We will be live tweeting our discussion and taking in your questions. Please voice up all your concerns in the comments section and we will be communicating them to the Lebanese Ministry of Information.

Stay tuned for the minutes of meeting and audio recordings.