Focus on media regulation in the Internet era

Sri Lanka has a dynamic entertainment industry and a rich and illustrious history in the broadcasting services. It is therefore a source of immense pride for our country to have a book of this calibre published by a local author.

As long as we have media and entertainment we will need laws to regulate it. Media and Entertainment Law is a subject that has largely been unexplored in Sri Lanka. There is limited knowledge in this field and a lack of attention to legal issues concerning these ever-developing industries.

With this pioneering piece of work Chanakya Jayadeva has documented the challenges facing Sri Lanka with regard to this area of law. Touching on a wide array of issues from film and television agreements to music law, publishing, the internet and social networking, this book sets out educational guidelines on how to navigate the world of entertainment and media from a legal standpoint.
We live in a world where the boundaries between different media of communication are blurred. The broadcast and entertainment sectors are developing at an unprecedented rate with the rise of new media technologies and the Internet. As media businesses grow, along with them come legal conflicts — and the knowledge that this book provides is helpful to all in the media industry. Considering the multifaceted nature of media, its global reach and the rapid growth of technology, legal issues relating to entertainment and media are becoming more and more important to Sri Lanka and Asia. This is especially pertinent when it comes to tackling new media, social networks and the Internet.

Media refers to all technologies that are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication, including all electronic media. Its influence extends over a large area and plays a central role in the freedom of expression and the freedom of information. The rise of the Internet and the Web 2.0 revolution have radically altered the media landscape, ensuring that these new forms of communications (Social networking, YouTube, blogging) now play a more central role in the freedom of expression and opinion than traditional mass media. It is plain to see that new media has empowered the casual Internet user to the highest degree ever.

While it is necessary to take steps to foster the independence of new media and freedom of expression over the Internet it is also necessary to respect the rights and reputations of individuals and ensure the protection of national security and the prohibition of advocacy of religious hatred and the protection of public, public health and morals of the citizens in the country.

In his book, Jayadeva raises these pivotal questions. Who then regulates the Internet and does it need to be regulated?

While the Internet has no central governing body that regulates access and usage by individuals, social media sites assume the responsibility for setting their own standards e.g.: Facebook regulates its own network.

Internet censorship is the control of the publishing of or access to information on the Internet and Jayadeva, argues that while there are rationales for Internet censorship on grounds of politics, social norms, security concerns and protecting intellectual property rights, he questions whether or not governments should engage in Internet censorship. Should websites with content that offend or challenge the authority of the state sovereign (the government) or sites whose content poses a threat to national security be filtered? For example the events that led to the Arab Spring of 2011 and the use of social media to overturn a government, or websites of political insurgents or terrorists.

He also discusses social filtering which is the filtering of social sites to censor topics that are not acceptable according to certain social standards in a country — for example censoring pornographic sites, sites promoting illegal drug use, gambling, violence, hate and criminal speech and sites that contain defamatory, slanderous or libelous content.

Whatever the issues are it is undeniable that new media, with the rise of the Internet is borderless simply because people see access to the Internet as their fundamental right. They see the Web as a force of good that doesn’t need regulation or government interference. Therefore is using the law to regulate media for reasons of national security, fraud, violence, defamation, slander and libel practical or even possible due it its size, scope and seemingly borderless nature?

In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its Article 19 states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.”

This reinforces the Internet’s unique architecture and how it supports individuals as a vital communication platform. According to this guideline, access to the Internet with as little restriction as possible should be a right of all citizens of a nation.

While it is clear that the rate of innovation of the Web has overtaken the rate of its regulation and safeguarding and people are being encouraged to communicate across social media, it is the duty of governments with the use of the law to protect people from harm or misuse without compromising the integrity of the Internet.

This book acts as a timely and useful legal framework in the present day with the media under a great amount of pressure and scrutiny from the public. The release of such a book at a time when world attention is being drawn to electronic media is a significant occasion. With this comprehensive work Jayadeva has provided us all; academics and laymen alike, with an opportunity to learn about the emerging issues in this area and I congratulate him and all who contributed to the publication of this book, for their efforts to bring to the forefront the importance of this area of study.

I honour him for his contribution to this country in the fields of law and broadcasting. It is my hope that this book will inspire further development and greater understanding of this area of law.

(Charitha Herath is the secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media & information)