New Centre to provide legal aid for journalists



An online consultation centre has been created in Donetsk which will enable journalists in the Donetsk region to receive legal assistance on the Internet. The new centre will also monitor court cases against the media and infringements of freedom of speech.

According to the project’s director, Natalya Hranovska, the biggest problem for Ukrainian journalists is receiving accurate information.  Nobody in theory prohibits you from writing on some sensitive issue, but more often than not they refuse to provide information. She says that the Law on Access to Public Information has not significantly changed the situation. It remains to be seen whether the anti-corruption law which came into force on 1 July and which carries liability for providing incomplete or false information will be more effective.

Journalists in the Donetsk region most often turn for legal assistance when a case has already reached the court. Most typical are law suits brought by the mayors of cities, deputies of local councils or public figures claiming defamation, demanding retraction of the information and excessive amounts in moral compensation. Ms Hranovska warns that such claims could bankrupt media outlets in opposition to the present regime. She says that as a rule such reprisals against media outlets are most often seen before elections. She points out that it is fairly hard in Ukraine to win a case where the claimant is the mayor, and if the media outlet lodges an appeal, it has to pay state duty. In fact, many Donetsk media outlets do try to get legal assessments of their material before it’s published.

The new Internet project offers journalists information regarding various aspects of media activity, legislation, legal assistance for individual journalists and commentary and advice from colleagues. The site was created as a regional project, however its founders say that journalists from other regions are also approaching them. 

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