Their hypnosis is our fear
Media journalists are calling on their colleagues to show solidarity in fighting arbitrary rule in by the courts. At a press conference “Freedom of speech in Ukraine held hostage to the judiciary”, organized by the Association of Media Lawyers and the journal “Telekritika”, journalists discussed the problems especially in the regions due to the likelihood of defamation suits.
Kostyantyn Doroshenko from “Telekritika” [TK] reported the results of TK monitoring of the local media market. “My personal experience of trips around Ukrainian regions suggests the banal but gloomy conclusion that the regional media in Ukraine are not able to express themselves as they would wish, in the first instance due to fear of law suits, because, most likely, theyll lose them”.
Tetyana Kotyuzhynska, President of the Association of Media Lawyers reported that this year Ukraine had broken another record. On 23 May a law suit filed by the Head of the Consultative Council of the consortium SSAPS [Single State Automated Passport System]. Yury Sydorenko was allowed against the newspaper “Business”. Mr Sydorenko demanded 4,6 million UAH in compensation, this entailing the need to pay state duty of 4.6 million. The amount awarded against the newspaper and two journalists was 27 million UAH, this being the largest amount to date in Ukraine. In order to lodge an appeal, the newspaper and journalists will have to pay state duty of between 1 and 2.5 million UAH, depending on the court ruling. Ms Kotyuzhynska recounts: “We still dont have the motivation part explaining why the court decided to award this amount of money. In a private conversation, the judge said that pressure had been brought to bear”.
Tetyana Fomina, Head of the Legal Centre of the Independent Association of Television Broadcasters, mentioned another case – a law suit filed by Valentin Rybachuk; Mayor of Slovyansk, against a television company SAT plus. The ruling was overturned by a court of appeal due to the incorrect application of Ukrainian legislation and for not taking into account case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The judge found value judgments to be inaccurate, this being in violation of legislation and ignoring the public importance of information about the citys Mayor (the European Court of Human Rights has stressed that public figures must tolerate a greater level of public and media scrutiny than others).
Ms Fomina does not, however, see this as a victory since as she puts it “Judge Khaustova will continue to pass such rulings at the taxpayers expense, and the Mayor will get free publicity”. The Independent Association of Television Broadcasters is therefore planning to approach the Higher Council of Justice.
Tetyana Kotyuzhynska spoke of those judges whom the National Union of Journalist of Ukraine [NUJU] added to list of 15 public officials and judges who, in its opinion, were strangling freedom of speech in Ukraine
The list included Judge Khaustova who had previously passed judgments against Ihor Alexandrov, the journalist who wrote a lot of hard-hitting articles about Donetsk politicians and about corruption in the law enforcement agencies. He was murdered in 2001
In total, from 1998 to 2008, she said, only 25% of 738 court cases analysed had sought retraction of false information. 70% had also demanded compensation for moral damages and 1.37% that the media outlets issue be suspended.
Despite the fact that a regulation was passed in 2003 according to which the claimant must pay 5-10% of the amount sought in compensation, a large number of claims remain very high.
She noted that the largest number of claims for big amounts are allowed in the years following elections. Most “greedy” as she puts it, are politicians and public officials making up 48.8%. She asserts that these people are not entitled to turn to the courts since they have plenty of other means of correcting inaccurate information.
She mentioned also that unfair court rulings against the media were expensive for the State, recalling that two judgments were handed down by the European Court of Human Rights which found violations by Ukraine of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Expression).
She stresses that it depends on journalists whether such unlawful and unfair practice is allowed to continue.
Abridged from an article with the same title at www.telekritika.ua