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17.11.2009

Electoral legislation: limiting freedom of speech or a guarantee of candidates’ equal rights?

   

According to some observers, current Ukrainian legislation restrictions the opportunities of the media to provide objective coverage of the presidential election campaign, and it is too late to change this. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian media should be unbiased in its coverage and how to achieve this was the subject of a roundtable in Kyiv on 16 November.

On the eve of the present presidential campaign four draft laws on the presidential elections were tabled in parliament. The one which has come into force does not take  into account comments from media representatives and returns electoral legislation on coverage of the elections to the situation n 2004, Head of the Centre for Legislative Initiatives of the Independent Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters, Olha Bolshakova.

“We have legislation which it is virtually impossible to work with. The biggest flaws are that: any material which pertains to the candidates is regarded as pre-election campaigning because there is no differentiation between it and other information. If the media publishes information, they are at risk since parliamentarians voted against such material. Furthermore, the right of a media outlet to refuse to publish dirty advertising has been removed from legislation on the elections.

Deputy Chair of the parliamentary committee on freedom of speech and information, Andriy Shevchenko agrees that such provisions in electoral legislation need to be changed, however he does not believe that such changes will be considered before the elections.

One of the law’s authors, Yury Klyuchkovsky from the bloc “Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence” acknowledges that the present law is flawed, however asserts that only through its enforcement can equal conditions be ensured for all candidates.

“According to international standards, any analysis, especially coloured material, is not information. During the elections this is objectively campaigning. The law states that images of a candidate on the screen is campaigning. Together with freedom of speech we forget about another fundamental principle – equality before the law of all candidates. Only the voting day urns will show which candidate is most popular. Everything else is influence on this result, however an unlawful influence.

Professor Giovanne de Maiola from OSCE reminded Ukrainian media representatives of a fundamental principle of European political journalism: publishing critical information about a politician, you must him or her a chance to respond. He adds that in Ukrainian conditions, where some presidential candidates have power and influence on the main media, it is extremely difficult to achieve such objectivity.

From a text at www.radiosvoboda.org

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