Journalists will call on President to veto the new Law on Court Fees
Journalists and media lawyers warn of the dangers to the media in the Law passed by the ruling majority on 8 July this year. As reported, the Law on Court Fees removes an important safeguard against the previous astronomic law suits against journalists and media outlets. The provisions which effectively protected journalists from totally crippling defamation suits have now been removed. From 2003 people lodging defamation suits paid State duty in proportion to the amount sought in damages. If they wanted to demand a million UAH, the claimant needed to pay 100 thousand UAH. This has now gone.
Hanna Andrusenko explains that up to 2003 excessive demands for moral compensation in claims constituted one of the instruments used for applying pressure to independent publications. The situation improved specifically with the adoption of the Law on amendments to the system in 2003.
She says that unfortunately the profession has not yet begun sounding the alarm, yet the bill has been passed and the President could sign it any time.
Telekritika asked prominent journalists and media lawyers for their comments which included the following.
Taras Shevchenko, Director of the Media Law Institute explained that his Institute prepared and submitted amendments to the new draft law as soon as they learned of it. These were rejected.
“In my opinion, the opening of the gates for huge law suits could be deliberate policy by members of the Party of the Regions who are looking for a means of putting pressure on independent media outlets. For any media outlet, private, state-owned, oligarch-owned, independent, opposition, this is a huge threat since anyone can now be sued for millions, for tens of millions, hundreds of millions, and it is not at all clear what these suits will be considered. With the terrible lack of confidence in the judicial system, we cannot be certain that the courts will pass just rulings and award fair amounts, therefore the lack of such a preventive measure will be an enormous minus for defence of freedom of speech in Ukraine”.
There need to be public campaigns he says and they are turning to civic organizations. On the other hand it is journalists who need to become active since it is mainly their interests that are impinged.
Yulia Mostova, Chief Editor of the newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya pointed out that there have in the past been cases where they dealt with opposition media outlets precisely through such law suits where the compensation could simply not be paid.
She notes however also that the media in Ukraine do not carry out journalist investigations or undertake serious analysis with a major critical element. Obedient media outlets, she says, do not try to arm the public with knowledge … and do not risk anything.
“Obviously this measure is aimed specifically against those media outlets which are either overtly opposition or perform their function telling people about what is really happening in economics, medicine, politics, with the country, in the analytic sector etc This is just the latest weapon which will be applied mainly by those in power, perhaps sometimes by the opposition…”
Ihor Lubchenko, Head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine calls the law from 2003 which put an end to defamation suits causing media outlets to close journalists’ achievement. He is clear that they must now ensure the safety of media outlets and safeguard freedom of speech. He stresses however that nobody has yet seen the final version of the law voted on. He says they are trying to find it and if it is as dangerous as would seem, they will certainly be calling on the President to use his power of veto.
Much abridged from the interviews at: http://www.telekritika.ua/media-suspilstvo/expert/2011-07-21/64480