A Kirovograd newspaper is punished for quoting
The Kirovograd weekly “Ukraina-tsentr” turned to the Supreme Court of Ukraine with the appeal against the verdict of the oblast appeal court, which took the decision to collect from the editorial board 50 thousand UAH of compensation of moral damage inflicted to the plaintiff, the ex-candidate to the post of Kirovograd mayor. The claim was caused by the publication of the statements of the plaintiffs opponent during the election campaign.
The main argument of the defendants was the fact that the published information was taken from the news tape of the UNIAN agency. However, both the court of the first instance and the appeal court ignored this argument. There is one more interesting detail in this story: the claimant is not only a politician, he is also a head of one of district courts of Kirovograd. Would the judges demonstrate the solidarity to their colleague or they would follow the laws only?
It should be noted that the judge has already managed to punish several mass media.
The details of this case were presented to “Telekritika” by Efim Marmer, the editor-in-chief of the Kirovograd newspaper “Ukraina-tsentr”.
- Last year, after the long and scandalous election in Kirovograd, Vladimir Yaroshenko, the head of Kirovskiy district court, instituted a suit against our newspaper. He pretended to the mayors post and carried out rather active political work. Some local mass media opposed him and openly supported his political opponents. The position of “Ukraina-tsentr” was objective. We gave the floor to all candidates, including Yaroshenko and his opponents. In June of last year an event occurred very significant for Kirovograd. Two press conferences organized by Kirovograd dwellers were carried out in UNIAN in Kyiv. One of these conferences was conducted by the members of voting commission, the activities of which were somewhat endorsed by Yaroshenko. The second one was carried out by journalists, who criticized the participants of the former press conference. We printed the message about it on the first page of our newspaper. Our journalists were absent at this press conference, and we had to use the information given by UNIAN. The attention of Vladimir Yaroshenko was attracted by the phrase, which was also taken from the materials of the news agency. This was a phrase of TV journalist Yuri Mikhaylovich, a participant of the press conference, who publicly stated that he had the information about the preparation of his murder and that Yaroshenko was in some degree connected with it.
– And you published this quotation without Yaroshenkos comments?
– This was an official message of UNIAN received on the day of issuing the newspaper. By the way, leading TV channels also informed about this press conference in the evening. They also cited this ill-fated phrase. Well, we did not write that Yaroshenko ordered to murder Mikhaylovich. We wrote that Mikhaylovich said this at the press conference. Do you see the difference? Nevertheless, this phrase became a subject of Vladimir Yaroshenkos claim against our newspaper and against the journalist Yuri Mikhaylovich.
We tried to explain this difference both to the district and oblast Themis, but failed. We tried to prove that we took this phrase from the UNIAN message. The court sent the request to UNIAN agency and received the official response from Mikhail Batog, the former head of the agency, who confirmed that “Ukraina-tsentr” really used the materials of UNIAN.
Thus, according to laws, our edition had to be relieved of responsibility at once. However, several weeks later one more letter from UNIAN, sent personally to Yaroshenko, appeared in the case. This letter was signed by notorious Mr. Yurychko, the new head of the agency. The letter read that the material did not belong to the agency, since it was “substantially changed”, and that UNIAN had not given any materials to “Ukraina-tsentr”, because the newspaper was not a client of the agency. Later it turned out that the latter by Balog disappeared from the case. When we learned this, we urgently went to Kyiv to obtain the copy of this document. By the way, neither the fact of the disappearance of very important document from the case nor the actions of Galina Butelskaya, a judge of the Leninskiy district court of Kirovograd, were estimated by anybody.
Thus, the case contained two mutually exclusive documents. All our demands about the comparative textual expertise of this ill-fated article and the UNIAN information were rejected. We suggested to challenge the court composition because of the biased attitude to the case. Vladimir Yaroshenko mentioned in his writ that he was the head of the oblast Council of judges, and this fact meant that every judge in the oblast depended on him. Yet, this petition was also rejected. The only thing we achieved was the decrease of the suit sum from 500 to 100 thousand hryvnas. The newspaper was obliged to publish the refutation, but in a rather strange way. Judge Butelskaya issued the decision, in which she demanded from the newspaper to repeat the text of the article in the refutation.
There is one more peculiarity. During the consideration of the case in the district court Yuri Mikhaylovich presented to court a video record of the press conference, which testified that… he had said nothing of the kind. Thus, it turned out that UNIAN spread the non-existent information. Yaroshenko, in his part, presented the video record containing the vexed phrase. So, the expertise of the records had to be conducted, but nothing was done. Later, in the appeal court, we tried to adduce the arguments that, according to the well-known resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court, the malicious intent of journalists had to be proved during the consideration of the cases on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation. But how one may prove this, if “Ukraina-tsentr” was nearly only newspaper in Kirovograd, which published the speeches of Mr. Yaroshenko. Everybody sympathized with us, but finally the appeal court fixed the compensation sum equal to 50 thousand UAH. It is shocking! More then once we brought up this question in the Supreme Rada, we also turned to ombudsperson N. Karpacheva. The Arbitration Informational Court and the Supreme Rada Committee in charge of the freedom of speech and information issued their legal conclusions on this case. According to them, our newspaper must not be responsible for this publication. However, all our arguments were ignored.
-- The court verdict came into force, so did you publish the refutation?
-- No, we handed the cassation complaint at once, as well as the petition to suspend the execution of court verdict until the consideration of the complaint. It is noteworthy that I personally met Vasiliy Maliarenko, the Chairman of the Supreme Court of Ukraine. He listened to me very attentively. The execution of the decisions of district and appeal courts was suspended. It was very important for us, since the executive service had already took the decision to freeze our accounts and to seize our property. Today the date of the consideration of our cassation has not been appointed yet. However, I know that judge Yaroshenko, who had legal proceedings with almost all leading mass media of Kirovograd, will not calm.
As a rule, citizens turn to the Supreme Court with the requests to return the case to the court of first instance for the repeated consideration. We turned to the Supreme Court with the request to consider our case per se. We categorically do not want our case to be returned to Kirovograd.
-- If the court would satisfy the initial demands of the plaintiff, and the decision would be taken about collecting 50 thousand hryvnas from your newspaper, what it would mean for the edition?
-- Even 50 thousand UAH will destroy our edition. This means that we would not be able to pay either for paper or for printing… During the trial we told that this decision would ruin the newspaper, that they were impeding journalists work. Moreover, the claimant did not adduce any documentary proofs of his moral sufferings, which documents should be the basis for estimating the size of the compensation, although he had to do this in accordance to laws. Yet, a wonderful phrase was permanently repeated in the courtroom, and all newspapers that elucidated the process cited this phrase later: “the pre-term going gray”. In this connection we prepared the document, which confirmed that the term of the appearance of gray hairs depends on the genetic factors.
We hope that the Supreme Court will estimate our arguments properly.
-- What is now the situation in Kirovograd as to the freedom of mass media activities?
- On 23 May the appeal court of Cherkassy considered the claim of judge Yaroshenko against other Kirovograd mass media – the oblast TV and radio company, TV company “TTV” and newspaper “Kirovogradskaya pravda”. The claimant accused the above-listed mass media of quoting (again!) the critical speech, which was delivered by his election rival at a mass meeting. The oblast TV and radio company preferred “to recant”, and other mass media were severely punished: TVC “TTV” had to pay 300 thousand hryvnas of moral compensation to Mr. Yaroshenko, and “Kirovogradskaya pravda” – 50 thousand hryvnas. The tariffs, as you see, are similar to metropolitan ones, but they are absolutely exhaustive for the provincial mass media. So, either the number of mass media in Kirovograd will diminish in the nearest future, or a new media-magnate will appear in the town. However, I know that the defendants are already preparing the cassations to the Supreme Court of Ukraine. So, we can hope only for the Supreme Court.
Prepared by Oksana Lysenko, 30 May 2003, «Telekritika», http://www.telekritika.kiev.ua