On March 22, 2022 Alexander Lukashenko signed a decree on internet news aggregators. The purpose of the document is “to improve the quality and accessibility of information provided to citizens through news aggregators, to ensure the protection of the interests of society and the state in this segment of the information space”.
The decree obliges owners of the aggregators to censor information according to the requirements Belarusian legislative acts, and to prohibit the dissemination of information published by Internet resources and online publications, access to which is restricted in Belarus, as well as hyperlinks to them. If the owner of the aggregator fails to fulfill the requirements of the decree, the Ministry of Information will send him a request to eliminate violations, and if it is not fulfilled, access to the news aggregator may be limited.
The official rationale for the decree is the necessity reduce the destructive information and psychological impact on the citizens of Belarus. It is designed to limit access to consciousness-destroying information from “factories” that operate abroad. These are completely logical actions aimed at supporting national security. And those who howl about freedom of speech… let them analyze the situation that is happening with our southern neighbor. Compared to them, we are very restrained and constructive”, says Alexander Ivanovsky, a member of the expert group at the State Secretariat of the Security Council of Belarus.
The decree defines a news aggregator as the following “an internet resource that is used to process, structure, and distribute information messages and (or) materials on the global computer network internet and which hosts at least 50 news materials per day for five consecutive days, and the number of news sources of news materials exceeds 50 percent of the total number of information messages and (or) materials per day”.
Under this definition, social networks and messengers can be considered news aggregators. Therefore, the decree lays the foundation for blocking them.
Immediately after publication of the Decree, actions followed. On March 24, 2022 a number of independent Belarusian media received information about the exclusion of the Yandex.News news aggregator from partners due to the request of the Ministry of Information (in accordance with the Decree).
Earlier , on March 4, Belarusian Ministry of Information send a letter of demand to the Moscow office of Yandex LLC on March 4. It turns out that Belarusian officials monitored information on Internet sites owned by Yandex LLC and revealed “cases of them distributing materials from Internet resources, access to which is restricted for disseminating prohibited information.” In its letter, the Ministry of Information asks Yandex LLC to pay special attention to Ukrainian Internet resources, in respect of which decisions have been made to restrict access. Judging by the text of the letter, this is not the first appeal Yandex LLC.
The decree will significantly worsen the situation with access to information for Belarusian internet audience. In Belarus, news aggregators often serve as important sources of information for the and are a key for economic sustainability for independent Belarusian media as they provide more traffic and advertising opportunities.