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10.08.2006

The Internet – the first steps to checking your sources of information

   

Ukrainian legislation pays little attention to the Internet.  Neither de jure, nor de facto, can a publication posted on the Internet be automatically deemed to be reliable.

It is not difficult in practice to create an Internet website and post untruthful information on it. It is by no means always easy to find the person who in this way circulated untruthful information. Codes for accessing the site may also be in the hands of not only those servicing the site.  Potential impunity makes people more daring.

Even on fairly well-established websites information may prove to be unreliable. This is caused by the fact that the process for posting information on the Internet is not especially complicated and does not require the many stages one goes through in publishing something in the press. One needs only a text available in electronic form, the password for making changes on the site, this being known to a fairly large circle of people. It can also happen that a mistake appears in copying information from one site to another, or in translation when only one person is responsible, and the text is not later checked.

The situation is also in principle possible where a fake copy of a real website is created with untruthful information posted on the fake version. Even when typing in the address of the real site, users are directed to the fake.

It is clearly for these reasons that Ukrainian legislation does not view the Internet as a reliable source of information. Among grounds for dismissal of journalists or the media outlet, one can find “repeating verbatim material circulated by another media outlet or information agency, with reference to it”, however Internet sites do not come under the category of media outlets.

The presence of information on the Internet is thus not only “a step to the source” of information, since such information cannot yet be regarded as reliable. Incidentally, the courts are highly sceptical about printouts from the Internet presented as evidence. Judges give much more credence to evidence in the form of witnesses’ testimony, written evident, signed by the author him or herself, other material evidence, not to speak of official documents.

It is another matter when one is dealing with an alleged breach of authors’ rights or when a defamation suit is involved. In such cases the claimant need only prove that the relevant information was circulated on the Internet (i.e. the presence of the information on the Internet makes it clear to the court that it was circulated, although the truth of the information is no way clear). 

As far as checking information is concerned, its presence on several websites increases the likelihood of its reliability, however only on condition that the information is not expressed in identical phrases on different sites (since it is possible that it was simply copied from site to site). It is therefore worth checking the accuracy of information on the Internet with the help of other sources of information. However, from a legal point of view, the weightiest argument will remain only whether information was received from official sources (from the state authorities or bodies of local self-government, and officials of these carrying out their duties).

from a seminar prepared by the Institute of Mass Information: "What journalists need to know when investigating a story" (2006)

The Insti

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