President ignores calls to veto another law jeopardizing press freedom
On 28 July President Yanukovych signed the Law on Court Duty which among other things removes a hard-won norm introduced after parliamentary hearings on freedom of speech in 2003. Those put an end to defamation suits being used to cripple, sometimes absolutely bankrupt media outlets by making the size of the court duty dependent on the size of the moral damages sought (10%).
The Law on Court Fees which the President has signed now means that for moral compensation claims the court fee is 1% of the size of the claim, but not less than 0.2 of the size of the minimum wage and not more than 3 times the minimum wage. That means that after the law comes into force on 1 November 2011, a person will be able to pay 2, 955 UAH and demand millions in moral compensation from a journalist or media outlet that published an article the claimant objected to.
It should be stressed that this law is no small matter in a country where public confidence in the objectivity and independence of the judiciary was at a very low level even before the amendments introduced last year. In one of the articles cited below, Yulia Mostova, Chief Editor of Dzerkalo Tyzhnya pointed out that crippling defamation suits had been used before to crush inconvenient media outlets and to force journalists to apply strict self-censorship. In the present climate, and with the Law on Personal Data Protection having already given the authorities levers to use against the media (and not only them), this law can only be viewed as yet another dangerous step away from freedom of speech and the media.