Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues

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Governmental Media Regulation: U.S. vs. Bhutan

Raiven Taylor

As we all know, the media is used to spread the most recent news and current events. What many people do not know is that the media have rules and regulations they must follow in order to stay on TV and/or the radio. Many rules that regulate the media differ from country to country. Although the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of the press, usually with minimum regulations, other countries, such as Bhutan, which will be explored in this blog, do not have such freedom.

The U.S. gives most leeway to print media, such as newspapers, magazines, and flyers.[i] The only real regulation for print media is to deter defamation. [ii]  Defamation happens when untrue information is printed that may cause harm to someone.[iii] Defamation can be either written (libel) or communicated verbally (slander). Broadcasting media are a little more regulated than print.


Broadcasting media are also regulated against defamation. In fact, broadcasters and their networks can be sued for slander.[iv] Broadcasting is also heavily regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).[v] The FCC polices the content of the airwaves and has the authority to fine or revoke broadcasting licenses for violating any of the following: broadcasting obscene programs at any time, broadcasting indecent programs during certain hours, or broadcasting profane language during certain hours.

Having regulations on the media could eventually spill into social media. However, to date, the U.S. has only come up with basic regulations on social media, such as the right of privacy, how one may create social media policies, and protocols for marketing on social media.[vi] Because social media is a growing media source, it has been very hard for the government to regulate.


On the other hand, Bhutan has more restrictions on media outlets. Even though Bhutan claims to have a Constitution allowing free speech and opinion, Bhutan has an Act that prohibits criticism of the king as well as anything that may undermine or attempt to undermine the security and sovereignty of Bhutan.[vii] The government even restricts and censors topics that involve Nepali-speaking residents having to leave Bhutan.[viii] Many of the media outlets hesitate to push the limits of the regulations because the media depends on the government for funding and support.[ix]

Bhutan is a country that is far behind the times on Internet and television, both of which arrived in 1999.[x]  Even though Bhutan was behind the times, almost 10% of their population is on social media.[xi] Social media gives the Bhutanese an outlet to express their own opinions and views and changed the idea of criticizing the government, giving the younger generation an opportunity to have an opinion. [xii] However, due to the growth of social media and the presence of the population on social media in Bhutan, the government decided in 2014 to draft policy on the use of social media.[xiii]


The government agreed that a huge benefit of having a social media policy would be for the government to engage its citizens and officials in the use of social media to share government information as a developmental tool for social, economic, and political change.[xiv] Discussions concerning social media use in Bhutan have even led to the idea of incorporating curriculum in the schools to have a social media component.[xv] Even though the Bhutanese government may appear to support the idea of social media and is not trying to regulate social media, the government has created guidelines one must follow when using social media. These include the requirement to be accurate, to never post anything malicious or misleading, to respect the Constitution and all laws, and to act in good judgment.[xvi] These are many things that young people do not think of when posting their opinions.

Given an option between the United States and Bhutan, I would choose to use social media in the U.S. The U.S. may regulate TV, radio, and print, but it does not regulate it in a way that would affect one’s rights. The U.S. can write, state, or show on TV what’s going on in the government, even if they disagree with what the government is doing. On the other hand, Bhutan regulates its media outlets in a way that only shines light on the government’s positive aspects instead of the negative. The Bhutanese government does not allow its citizens to share their opinions if they disagree with what the government is doing. While beneficial to maintaining the status quo in Bhutan, this restriction of rights affects the rights of the media and Bhutanese citizens alike.

Raiven Taylor is third year law student at the University of Baltimiore School of Law and is completing her concentration in International Law. She has an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Bowie State University. She has studied abroad in London, England and Clermond-Ferrand, France. She is an Senior Staff Editor for the Journal for International Law as well as Secretary for the International Law Society. Additionally, Raiven is a Rule 16 student attorney in the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Her passion and interest in international law is human trafficking and international human rights law.

[i] http://study.com/academy/lesson/rules-governing-the-media-definition-examples.html

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] http://blogs.forrester.com/nick_hayes/13-07-31-five_common_legal_regulatory_challenges_with_social_media

[vii] https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2013/bhutan

[viii] id.

[ix] Id.

[x] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25314578

[xi] Id.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] http://www.undp.org/content/bhutan/en/home/presscenter/articles/2015/01/14/bhutan-forms-its-first-social-media-policy.html

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] http://www.gnhc.gov.bt/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/RGoB-Draft-Social-Media-Policy.pdf



No Common Heritage: Why the Internet Cannot be Regulated Like the Sea

Matthew Matechik

In the rapidly unfolding digital age, the strongest player on the international stage is not necessarily the state with the biggest weapons or the most soldiers. Instead it is the cyber actor, which may or may not be a state, capable of most effectively leveraging the Internet to achieve objectives. Like the seafaring captains of old, these actors navigate the labyrinth of the Internet to discover, to trade, to pillage, and to conquer. Digital packets are their vessels. The Internet is their sea.

Internet Pirate

Like the sea, the internet encircles the globe. Like the sea, the Internet is used for benign activity, such as commerce and leisure, but also for destructive activity, such as theft and combat. The sea has sailors and pirates; the internet has cyber professionals and hackers. The comparison seems appropriate and begs the questions: Can international law regulate the Internet like it regulates the sea?

The similarities between the Internet as a medium and the sea as a medium suggest that international principles governing the use of the sea could effectively be applied to the use of the Internet. Upon inspection, however, this theory quickly erodes for numerous reasons. Perhaps the most significant obstacle is the lack of a common heritage to the Internet. Common heritage is the critical component that has allowed the law of the sea to develop.

Customs governing the use of the sea probably began to emerge when humans first encountered other humans at sea. These customs grew out of a recognition that the sea was an incredibly vast shared space that no one nation could hold in the way that land territory could be held. The sea was recognized as the common heritage of mankind. Seafaring parties intersected with both allies and enemies in this shared space. Customs and laws continued to develop over millennia to regulate these encounters. As humanity’s access to the sea increased, international norms increased, including codifying many of these customs in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). These laws were based on the idea that all humans enjoyed freedom of the sea because it was common heritage.  The laws fostered shared use of the sea while deterring nefarious actions on the sea.

As a recent phenomenon, the Internet has no such common heritage, although it has become a common resource. The Internet traces its origins back to a research project completed by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) during the 1960s.[1] Its usage grew exponentially until it became the truly globe-spanning super network of today, reaching an estimated 3 billion people.[2] Because the United States was the primary driver of early Internet adoption, its infrastructure and usage patterns have developed in such a way that most of the world’s internet traffic passes through the United States.[3] This position offers the United States unique advantages and opportunities that the United States is unlikely to relinquish.

Global Internet Map

Other nations have more recently undertaken measures to ensure their own Internet posture also offers unique advantages and aligns with their interests. For example, China has erected “The Great Firewall” around Chinese Internet users, allowing China to censor which traffic is accessible by Chinese users.[4] China is leveraging its Internet power to further its interests at the expense of internet freedom and access. Meanwhile in the European Union, some European leaders are advocating for new Internet regulations that could bolster European tech companies’ positions against their American counterparts.[5] The fortifying of digital space will not enable the international community to adopt any sort of “freedom of the Internet” measures akin to the freedom of the seas.  Quite the opposite in fact, the trend seems to be increasing restrictions on communal use.

Even if the international community did characterize the Internet as a resource to be shared by all, regulation appears to be technically impossible, at least at present, because Internet traffic cannot be finitely quantified and observed in the same way that seafaring vessels can. Sea regulations are enforceable in large part because nations are able to observe a meaningfully quantifiable number of vessels and react by employing the appropriate legal measure. On the sea, the regulator can, for example, react to nefarious activity by boarding a vessel and searching it.

Over the Internet, the regulator would likewise have to conduct inspections in some manner but there are far too many data packets to deal with. By the end of 2016, an estimated 1,000,000,000,000 gigabytes of data will traverse the Internet annually.[6] That number is too large to fathom its significance. Finding nefarious activity among that much data and reacting appropriately while still fostering Internet freedom is technically impossible given the current state of technology. There are simply too many packets traversing the internet.

The lack of common heritage to the Internet and technological limitations on widespread enforcement make the application of the law of the sea’s principles to the Internet impossible for now. The international community must approach the Internet with a fresh perspective that considers its modern and unique characteristics. The Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime, which entered into force in 2004, is currently the leading international convention in this field. The Convention identifies numerous cybercrimes that signatories must address in their domestic criminal laws, requires that certain law enforcement procedures be put into place, and demands that signatories cooperate to investigate and prosecute cybercrimes.[7] The Convention has been ratified by forty-seven states so far and signed by an additional seven.

The Convention shows some real promise because it addresses uniquely cyber issues and has seen at least some adoption. However, it still lacks global utility because it does little to address state-on-state cyber acts and lacks signatures from significant cyber powers, notably China and Russia. The lack of widespread adoption suggests cyber stakeholders with competing interests have a long way to go before they are able to agree on international regulation that works as effectively as sea regulations.

Matthew Matechik is an Evening J.D. student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (Class of 2016). He currently works full-time for the U.S. Federal Government as a Counterterrorism Analyst. He has a Bachelors of Arts (Magna Cum Laude, 2008) from Florida State University. All views in this blog post are Matthew’s own views and do not represent that of the U.S. Government. 

[1] http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/what-internet/history-internet/brief-history-internet

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2015/05/30/net-of-insecurity-part-1/

[3] http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/CCTP748/Internet-Mediology.html

[4] http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=4707107&page=1

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/23/us-eu-digital-letter-idUSKBN0P32AX20150623

[6] http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/VNI_Hyperconnectivity_WP.html

[7] http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/185.htm