Introduction of changes to the legislation on information – “the territory of truth”
Evhen Zakharov, a co-chairman of the Kharkov group for human rights protection:
«If the introduction of changes to the legislation on information would have some real consequences, then it would result in the improvement of court practices. This will give journalists the opportunity to become more liberal in the assessments of the activities of political figures. However, now judges cannot interpret the considered norms properly, since these norms are new for them. It is doubtful that the judges will ground their decisions concerning the conflicts with mass media on new law provisions. Advocates should exert many efforts for persuading the judges to act in the correspondence with new legal realities. Mykola Tomenko, the mouthpiece of these changes, stated that the adopted documents would not have the great effect. So, I believe that these amendments will not influence the situation with the freedom of speech very much. Nevertheless, advocates will have the opportunity to use these norms as arguments for the protection of mass media workers. Thus, we have now the “deferred-action weapon”, which will go off earlier or later, but not in the current political season. I do not think that the newly adopted laws will spur journalists to the freer elucidation and discussion of the political life in the country. The mass media need some other additional stimuli. Will the renewed legislative base influence the interrelations between the political forces? The “battles” between these forces are rather chaotic, and I believe that the situation will remain the same: both during the preparation to the election and the approval in the Parliament of the law on the constitutional reform, which, in the nearest future, is going to be the main reason of the confrontation between the parliamentary majority and the opposition. The role of the press also would not change, if no cataclysms would happen. Let us hope that they will not happen.
(«2000» — «Svoboda slova», No. 37, 12-18 September 2003)
Our legislators widened “the territory of truth” by the adoption of a number of laws on mass media, reckons Mykola Tomenko, the head of the Parliamentary committee in charge of the freedom of speech.
M. Tomenko told to a correspondent of “UM” about the work of MPs at the last session and about their “creative plans”:
“I reckon that we fulfilled the minimal program: prevented a great part of claims against mass media, widened the so-called “territory of truth”… The law on the struggle with censorship came into force. By now we have more than ten court resolutions grounded on this law. They concern the cases, where the claims were rejected at all, since these claims were handed by the organs of state power or local self-rule, and the cases, where the consideration was ceased because the affair concerned the evaluative judgments, for which journalists had the right”.
We plan to consider the drafts of two laws at the coming session: the law on TV broadcasting (it was adopted in the first reading) and the law on TV and radio broadcasting, which was supported by the committee, but has not been adopted in the first reading yet. The first law describes in details the procedure of giving licenses, which will liquidate many conflicts. The law envisages the precise mechanism of the adoption of decisions and turns the National Council to the collegiate organ. The law on TV and radio broadcasting stipulates the regulation of the relations between national TV companies, regional TV companies and the operators of cable TV. Today the discussion is conducted about the social (narrow) and commercial packages for the operators of cable TV. Our position is the following: the law should envisage everything concerning the narrow package. This package must obligatory include all national and regional TV channels. If some free space remains, then the operators have the right to add other channels: Russian, German or whatever they like. The commercial package may contain any TV channels, but the operators must pay for this…
The law on censorship gives journalists more freedom in the political context, and the law on advertising widens their economic potential. For a long time we debated on the question how to extend the economic potential of printed mass media. We believe that after the adoption of this law the financial injections to printed mass media and the support of Ukrainian TV and radio companies will become more active, and the attempts will be made to organize the retransmission of the foreign radio companies with their (paid!) advertising. This law will become a powerful incentive for the economic independence of mass media”.
At the same time, points out Mykola Tomenko, the norms are multiplying in the sphere of legislative novelty, which norms may in no way be regarded as progressive and democratic ones. For example, one of the articles of the newly adopted Civil Code reads that “any negative information spread about a person is regarded as inauthentic”, whereas the information “presented by a state official in the framework of his service duties… is regarded as authentic”. The quoted article is a real “gold-mine” for any unscrupulous official, since from now any nonsense, even an obvious lie, generated “in the framework of service duties” would be regarded as an absolute truth, which is beyond any doubt and may not be criticized. So, it turns out that the officials are always true, and common citizens must listen to them, trust them and even like them, because any “negative information” will transform the author of this information into a liar and slanderer.
“We proposed to introduce some changes to the Civil Code, since it has not come into force yet (this will happen only on 1 January 2004). In particular, we proposed to change this absurd Article 277 (about the negative information) and similar passages. I hope that the proper committee will consider our propositions before 1 January 2004. Unfortunately, we had not enough votes to prevent the adoption of another harmful law: on state secrets. According to this law, a USS officer has the right to come to a journalist without any warrant and to question him about the sources of information”.
Naturally, the Law “On introduction of changes into some legal acts of Ukraine”, which was adopted by the Supreme Rada on 9 July 2003, essentially extends the authorities of the Security Service and, correspondingly, narrows the right of citizens for the freedom of expression. Now the right of printed mass media to collect, store and spread information concerns only the “information with open access”. By the way, according to M. Tomenkos words, “MPs plan to conduct the Day of government, on which the government will inform us about the use of the classifications restricting the access to information. Now three types of classifications are applied: “for service use only”, “not for publishing” and “secretly”. It appeared that the last category includes, for instance, the staff lists of Presidents Administration, tax administration and customs service, that is the items, which, according to the operating laws, must be open”.
The above-mentioned law also gives the right to the USS to detain journalists for compiling the protocols in the case of violation by the mass media workers of the laws on state secrets, to conduct personal search of the detained and search of their private things. Besides, the legislators propose to fine citizens for storage, purchase and use of technical means for collecting the information. Such fine equals to 50-100 untaxed minimal wages for common citizens and 200-500 untaxed wages for state officials. So, soon an owner of a dictaphone should have to obtain a permit, as if he owned a gun or something like that. We are curious, should we interpret the creation of this law draft as too literal understanding of the metaphor “a word is a weapon” or our legislators are afraid of the followers of major Melnichenko?
“However, it is not the last surprise from the legislators and not the last mentioning of the security service in the Ukrainian laws. One more law has appeared: on the monitoring of telecommunications”, tells M. Tomenko. “It is not less dangerous, and our committee rejected it. This law, in fact, legalizes the right of the USS to wiretap anybody. I have the suspicion that they wiretap anybody even now, although, according to the operating laws, they may do that only after a court decision. If this law would be adopted, our security service would not need any court decisions. The committee unanimously rejected the presented version of the law on the monitoring of telecommunications”.
("Ukraina moloda", No. 171, 18 September 2003)
Andriy Shkil, an MP:
Unfortunately, one may not speak about any widening of “the territory of truth”, even if the Supreme Rada would adopt the maximal possible number of the laws concerning mass media, because the Supreme Rada has no authorities to control the fulfillment of these laws, especially if this fulfillment is shared between other branches of power. None of the laws can stop the murders of journalists, and none of the laws can stop the application of censorship. Certainly, the laws of direct action connected with the problems of the press are necessary, since they regulate the activities of mass media in the democratic state. Yet, to make these laws function effectively, such state must be created. The state, where the journalists will really be the fourth power. And there is no other way.
Much work must be done for the achievement of this goal. The legislators must elaborate the law on political advertising; this term, as well as all kinds of the concealed political advertising, must be defined distinctly. This will, undoubtedly, weaken the pressure on journalists, since there are two different things: the political advertising and forcing journalists to serve somebodys interests against their will.
A great number of very important laws are still not adopted. At the same time, such drafts as the new Criminal-Procedural Code appear instead of the high-quality product. By the way, one of the tasks of this code is to control the actions of those people, who struggle against the arbitrariness of state authorities in Ukraine and must be protected with efficient laws. For example, journalists, who fulfill their work religiously, should be sure that their rights would be protected at any time and in any situation.
The problem is that there is no respect in our country either for journalists or for the laws regulating their activities. After all, the respect or disrespect for some people is a personal affair of an individual. Yet, respect for the laws may not called in question under any circumstances. And the law on struggle with censorship would not liquidate this phenomenon (it will continue to exist in the concealed forms) until the society would not free itself from the yoke of the totalitarian system. Only free society, where journalism occupies the due place, is able to liquidate censorship.
Besides, the laws are not developed yet, which regulate other questions: in particular, the personal protection of journalists and the protection of informational sphere.
("Ukraina moloda”, No. 171, 18 September 2003)