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03.03.2011

Journalists call on MIA to stop police arbitrary rule

   

Participants in a roundtable held in Kyiv entitled “Journalists and the Police: how to avoid confrontation” have passed to the Verkhovna Rada draft amendments prepared by media lawyers aimed at strengthening legislative protection of journalists’ rights.

Civic journalists’ organizations, media lawyers and representatives of Internews – Ukraine and Reporters without Borders discussed with representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs the reasons for the sharp increase in infringements of journalists’ rights by law enforcement officers.

The journalists complained that searches, removal of technical equipment and bans of photography or videoing have recently become more common. They report also that the police do not as a rule respond when journalists’ rights are being violated, for example, by private security guards.

The number of violations of journalists’ rights has doubled

Oksana Romaniuk from Reporters without Borders reminded those present that Ukraine had dropped in her organization’s ranking of freedom of speech by 42 places and was presently together with such countries as Iraq, Russia, Belarus and China. “In a year the regime has demonstrated that there is no limit to impunity”. She noted that the number of cases of violence or infringements of journalists’ rights had increased by one and a half or two times. The norm in the law on criminal liability for these offences, she added, has not changed.

National Deputy [MP] from Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence, Lesya Orobets noted that hushing up infringements of the law by police officers instead of uncovering them and making a public display of punishing them only leads to confrontation between the police and the public. “The police begin to be more frightened of demonstrating their blunders than of the blunders themselves. And the tune is being called by those whose mentality was formed 30 or 40 years ago”.

Changes needed to legislation

Ms Orobets added that if the outmoded thinking could change, the MIA would be able to use the press as “a source of high-quality and free monitoring of police activities” and would benefit enormously from that.

The National Deputies present were handed amendments and supplements to the Criminal Procedure Code prepared by media lawyers. It is this Code which the police are most often guided by in their work.

The amendments would bring journalists on a par in terms of privileges with doctors and priests who have the right to not divulge sources of confidential information. The amendments proposed also significantly restrict the right of the law enforcement bodies to search and removal documents and technology from editorial offices and from independent journalists.

Oleksandr Savytsky

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