In February 2019, ARTICLE 19 analysed the Law on Mass Media (Mass Media Law), adopted by the Uzbekistan Government in January 2007, and subsequently amended in April 2018, for its compliance with international freedom of expression standards.
ARTICLE 19 welcomes the stated commitment of the Uzbekistan Government to improve its poor human rights record, since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took power in December 2016, including reforming legislation that contravenes international human rights standards. We call on the Uzbekistan Government to undertake an urgent review of all freedom of expression related legislation and ensure it is duly amended. We believe that the review of the Mass Media Law must be assessed and amended as a key part of these reforms.
In the analysis, ARTICLE 19 finds that the Mass Media Law contains some positive features, such as providing for the protection of media freedom, protection of sources and the right of access to information. At the same time, overall, the Mass Media Law fails to adequately protect and promote the right to freedom of expression as provided for under international law. For one thing, the Mass Media Law attempts to regulate in a single set of broad provisions all aspects and fields of mass media even though very different regimes are needed to regulate, for example, the broadcast media and the print and Internet based media. Other fundamental difficulties include onerous content restrictions which impose an overbroad obligation on the mass media to publish corrections or responses; and provisions which give state authorities power to command the publication of certain materials.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Uzbekistan Government to either repeal or significantly revise the Mass Media Law. We also offer support to all stakeholders in Uzbekistan to assist in the reforms to improve the protection of freedom of expression and information in the country.
Summary of recommendations
- Uzbekistan should undertake a comprehensive assessment of its legislation related to freedom of expression and ensure that all legislation fully complies with them. The legislation should ensure that any restrictions on freedom of expression should strictly meet the three-part test under international human rights standards;
- Uzbekistan should also ensure that the country’s justice system is fully independent and adequately resourced to protect human rights of all in the country. They should beable to interpret all legislation in compliance with international freedom of expression and human rights standards. Such a provision should already be part of domestic law;
- To the extent that the Mass Media Law is retained, it should declare that its objective is to promote freedom of expression and information. In particular, it should state that its aim is to provide freedom of media in accordance with the right to freedom of expression. The Law should explicitly recognise that the main mission of the media is to report the news and to act as a public watchdog of government; and require that state bodies always use the least restrictive means of action when their bodies interfere with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression; Positive aspects of the Media Law should be retained and properly enforced in practice, in particular prohibition of censorship and provision of media freedoms;
- Any media related legislation should distinguish between print and Internet-based media on the one hand, and broadcast media on the other, with regulation only specified in relation to broadcast media. Definition of the mass media in Article 4 and in connection to Article 21 should be amended;
- The Mass Media Law should not contain any content restrictions whatsoever. If the publication of a certain category of statement carries a sufficient risk of harm to justify a restriction on freedom of expression, this should apply regardless of the manner in which the statement is disseminated. As a result, the restriction should be placed in a law of general application. Article 6 of the Mass Media Law should be omitted.
- Article 8 of the Mass Media Law should be amended to make it clear that everyone has the right to publish, in association with any group or individual of their choice;
- The provisions on organising activities of the mass media in Chapter 2 should be repealed. If the need for a limited and purely technical registration regime can be demonstrated, then its substantive elements should be based on the principles outlined in this analysis;
- Chapter 3 of the Mass Media Law and Articles 25-29 and Article 31 and Article 35 should be repealed in their entirety;
- The provisions of the Mass Media Law on media concentration should be carefully examined and expanded in light of available international and regional standards in this area;
- The rule on protection of confidentiality of sources should be cast as a right, not an obligation. It should apply to everyone regularly engaged in the professional or regular dissemination of information. The Mass Media Law should ensure that any restrictions on confidentiality of sources should comply with international freedom of expression standards;
- The right to reply and correction should ideally be dealt with by self-regulatory. mechanisms, not by the Mass Media Law. Alternatively, provisions should be made to allow for refusal to publish a “correction” and provisions on the right should be clarified. The rights of reply and correction should be separated and restricted;
- In particular, a right to reply should not be available where the publication of the statement was justified by an overriding legitimate public interest;
- Uzbekistan should adopt a comprehensive freedom of information law. Alternatively, the Mass Media Law should be amended to provide that everyone has the right of access to information. Any restrictions on access to information should meet the requirements of international standards;
- The Mass Media Law should ensure that accreditation is required only if due to limited space all interested journalists cannot attend a meeting or follow the activities of a particular body. It should provide safeguards against arbitrary refusals of accreditation, such as clear accreditation rules. The accreditation should be overseen by an independent body, such as a journalists’ union. There should be a right to appeal refusals for accreditations to court.