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15.07.2009

New version of the Law “On information” - going over old ground

   

Ukraine’s information legislation undoubtedly needs updating. It could be said that parliament initiated this process by passing in its first reading the draft law “On access to public information”. The author of this, Andriy Shevchenko, has also proposed a new version of the Law “On information”. If the law on public information could be called revolutionary, this new one is more a correction of current norms of the same law.

The proposed changes are, first of all, in the definition of information as presently in the law on information, as well as in the Civil Code (surprisingly enough this was not refined when drawing up the latter.) The new version reads: “Any piece of information the content of which can be given in sign or symbol form and stored on a physical medium external to the human mind”. This definition seems closer to the modern concept of information than that in the current law (“news about events or phenomena which occur in society, the State and the environment”)

The general principles of the new version also include new norms, such as one prohibiting the classifying of information for more than 30 years. It stipulates the duty of legislative, representative and other elected or appointed public authorities to provide the public unobstructed access to their meetings. At present the issue of access to meetings is particularly relevant at local level, however the obligation to hold open meetings is imposed only for local councils and not for their executive bodies.

The penchant seen in the current law for overloading the document with theoretical provisions has been carried over into the new version. For example, listing types of information and defining each will hardly help protect any person’s rights, but could quite possibly promote the existence of several unnecessary statistical or other reporting forms on types of information.

It is yet again proposed to leave the concept of the right of ownership of information in the understanding of use, disposal of and ownership of, although the questionability of such a concept has long been discussed.

The new version gives a list of journalists’ rights which is very close in content to that in the law on the press. This is a necessary step since the laws on other forms of media do not have such a list, which can lead to journalists and freelancers in such media outlets simply not having their rights recognized.

The definition of value judgments has virtually not been changed and remains inadequate, this being a significant flaw which is not compensated for by improved access to information.

The new version does not fully supply the needed changes, although it is an improvement. The very fact of its having been tabled could provide the stimulus to achieve the relevant changes when preparing legislative changes to the second and third readings.

Abridged from a text by Roman Holovenko, the Institute for Mass Information, www.imi.org.ua

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