At a glance:  This session introduced many of the themes for the two-day conference: the challenging legal environment in Southeast Asia for internet and press freedoms, modes of internet/intermediary liability, including the relevance of New York Times v. Sullivan to the internet age (i.e., protecting methods of communications), the EU and UN’s legal environment on free speech and the internet (arrests of journalists are considered offensive to human rights), the need for the legal environment in China to catch up with the fast-evolving Internet changes there, including dealing with online rumors, and finally, amendments to Hong Kong’s copyright ordinance, particularly the treatment of parody and satire.

Panel A: Opportunities and Challenges for Media Law and Policy in the Internet Age (60 min)
Moderator: Mr. Charles Glasser (former Global Media Counsel, Bloomberg News)
Speakers: Mr. Peter Noorlander (Media Legal Defence Initiative, UK)
Mr. H.R. Dipendra (Executive Director, Media Defence–South East Asia)
Mr. Robert Balin (Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, NY)
Hon. Mr. Dennis Kwok (Legislative Council, Hong Kong)
Prof. Xu Xun (Executive Director, Research Centre for Media Law, China University of Political Science and Law)

Panel A was an introductory panel that provided an overview of the latest issues and themes pertaining to media law reform across a spectrum of jurisdictions.  While acknowledging the diversity of the region, H.R. Dipendra outlined the common challenges to press freedom in Southeast Asian countries.  He alluded to the prevailing tensions between freedom of expression and political and cultural considerations, as illustrated by the “3 Rs” in Malaysia, where issues of race, religion and royalty are considered highly sensitive and are often used as a pretext for restricting free speech.

Rob Balin elaborated on the scope of internet intermediary liability.  He discussed the landmark case of New York Times v Sullivan (1964), citing the US Supreme Court’s holding that the ability to criticize elected officials and the system is critical in a participatory democracy, and that the protection of the method of communication was crucial as it affects the amount of free speech.  Balin also analyzed the recent case of Delfi as v. Estonia (2013) at the European Court of Human Rights, stating that its decision in holding an Internet news portal liable for defamatory comments was a step in the wrong direction and reiterated that a passive intermediary should not be held liable for user-generated speech.

Peter Noorlander also remarked that this case set a bad precedent in restricting freedom of expression on the Internet, while displaying a failure of the Strasbourg court to understand the EU legal framework in regulating intermediary liability.

Professor Xu Xun (Executive Director, Research Centre for Media Law, China University of Political Science and Law) turned the spotlight to Mainland China.  She referred to a number of recent incidents which illustrated how the rapid development of technology and the growing activism of netizens have seen an increase in public scrutiny over public officials.  She also discussed the latest joint interpretation issued by the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate in September this year, which criminalizes the posting of internet rumors.

The Hon. Dennis Kwok highlighted the challenges of bringing copyright laws up to speed with the rapid development of the knowledge-based economy in Hong Kong, while balancing between the right of copyright holders and freedom of expression. The Hong Kong SAR Government’s s Copyright Amendment Bill in 2011 was met with much fear and concerns by the online community, particularly on the potential censorship of parody and satire.  The government has launched a public consultation on the treatment of parody under the copyright regime (which will end on 15 November 2013), setting out several options with reference to overseas practices; including fair dealing exceptions and a specific criminal exemption for parody.

[flickr_set id=72157637073317424]