Lviv officials want to prohibit free reprinting of materials from foreign sources


Oleg Onisko, Andriy Pavlishin:

Newspapers, radio and TV can disappear in Ukraine in the near future. This is not an overstatement. The Lychakivskiy district court of Lviv is going to deprive journalism of one of its bases – the right for reprinting and quoting of other mass media. And this will mean the end of Ukrainian journalism.

The claim of Taras Kozak, the head of the Western regional customs, against “Lvivska gazeta” seemed to be, at first, a strange misunderstanding. We even supposed that some enemies of the customs head instigated him to bring in this suit.

The affair is very simple. On 16 October the newspaper “Lvivska gazeta” reprinted the article of journalist Petr Koscinski from the Polish weekly “Rzecz Pospolita”, which article described the situation in Lviv. We based on the right envisaged by the Constitution: the freedom of speech and the right for distribution of information.

Our rights are also confirmed by the Law of Ukraine “On printed mass media (the press) of Ukraine”, which clearly reads: “editorial board and journalist are nor responsible for publication of the information […], if […] this information is a verbal quotation of the materials published by other mass medium, with the reference to it […]”.

Yet, it seems that the Lychakivskiy district court neglects this law. The town, which is proud of the freedom of the press (on the background of the entire situation in Ukraine), can become a burial ground of the freedom of speech.

On 28 November we had the opportunity to make sure of that.

Advocate O. Kalishevich, who “specializes” in rendering of the legal aid to the “offended” representatives of the SDPU (u), justified our worst expectations. The tactics used by him carried the letter of the law to the point of absurdity. The claim ignored the fact of reprint until the moment, when the judges produced officially the original of the Polish edition with the vexed article. Then the advocate somewhat changed his tactics: he tried to persuade the court that “Lvivska gazeta” has published not verbal quotation, but the literary translation.

All in all, the advocates of T. Kozak are ignoring the fact that the publication in “Lvivska gazeta” was the verbal translation of the material from “Rzecz Pospolita”. This is confirmed by the reference to the source, use of the logotype of the Polish newspaper and the special font used by “Lvivska gazeta” for reprints from other mass media. Eventually, Petr Koscinski, a well-known Polish journalist, who specializes in Ukrainian problems and frequently visits Lviv and Kyiv, gave his oral consent to the reprinting and is ready to confirm that.

Head of the Lychakivskiy court Mr. Goretskiy, who chaired this trial, rejected all petitions presented by the lawyers of “Lvivska gazeta”, in particular, the petitions about the summon of the translator to court and the conduction of textual expertise.

Instead of this the judge endorsed the proposition of Kalishevich to summon to the next court sitting the specialist in Polish language, who would prove that the translation was not exact. Yet, this peculiarity is very demonstrative. An author of expert conclusion would be strictly punished for its falsity, and a specialist, who testifies in court, has much more opportunities for casuistry and his amenability is less serious.

By the way, judge Goretskiy is notorious among Lviv journalists. On 31 March 2000 he approved “one of the most absurd decisions in the history of legal proceedings against mass media in the independent Ukraine. The case was connected with the publication by the newspaper “Ekspress” of a small (12-lines) critical note on the page “Culture”. The judge obliged the newspaper to pay 150 thousand hryvnas of the moral compensation” (citation from “The official appeal of the newspaper “Ekspress”” published, in particular, on the Internet page “Action of independent journalists”). This decision, which was reconsidered later by the courts of the higher instance, evoked the decisive and active protest of Ukrainian journalists, who, on 13 April 2000, started the action of civil disobedience called “The wave of freedom”.

The court process, which concerns three phrases containing, in the Polish original, only 36 words, seems nonsensical. Yet, the resolution against the newspaper “Lvivska gazeta” may become a precedent with far-reaching and very unpleasant consequences.

The right to reprint (quote) is a key concept of journalism. This right is exercised by everybody – from the agency Reuters to village newspapers. TV-men throughout the world transmit the films shoot by BBC or other companies, radio stations cite newspapers and on the contrary.

The court prohibition of reprinting from the editions published in the Polish, Russian, English or Chinese language, or the demand to check the authenticity of such sources, will nullify all achievements in the sphere of the freedom of speech in Ukraine. Yet, nobody cancelled the juridical norm, which prohibits to restrict the legal rights of citizens. Maybe judge Goretskiy wants to activate the struggle of Ukrainian people for the freedom of speech?

("Lvivska gazeta", 3 December 2003)

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