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26.09.2008

Access to information a real problem for Ukrainian journalists

   

At a roundtable organized by the Institute for Mass Information [IMI], its Director Victoria Sumar was blunt about the problems journalists confront. She said that in the majority of cases they either receive no response, or a formal fob-off, not addressing the issue. A major problem is that officials don’t understand that very often journalists need the information here and now.

Ms Syumar gave several examples where the authorities had failed to respond to requests for information in prominent cases.  When President Yushchenko bestowed a State award on the former Prosecutor General Potebenko, journalists addressed a request for information to the President’s Secretariat. They asked for explanation as to how a person who had stalled the investigation into Gongadze’s killing had deserved this honour. The answer came after 7 months (instead of the legally stipulated month): “He was given the award because the Prosecutor General’s Office applied for it”.

The Treasury chose not to reply at all to a request for information regarding where the money from the sale of “Kryvorizhstal” had been transferred to.  There was similarly no reaction to a question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the lack of official reaction to the notorious scam over the “Hitler doll”.

Ms Syumar recommends filing suits with the court in such instances in order to create a precedent. After all the more journalists win court cases and have officials behaviour declared unlawful, the easier it will be to work further.

Maryana Demkova from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform believes that the new draft law “On access to public information” will provide a way of changing the situation. She points to the stipulation in the draft law of a much shorter timescale with officials being obliged to respond to information requests in 5 days. The draft law also envisages measures to protect those providing information and does not impose payment for providing information.

However Volodymyr Yavorsky, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union believes that this draft law could in fact worsen the situation. He points to the name of it: “On access to public information”, which could add yet another task for those wishing to receive information, that being to prove that it is “public”.

He also suggested following Slovakia in establishing liability for not providing information or not in timely manner. In Slovakia officials can be fined for this.

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