Stop Censorship expresses concern over new possibilities for crippling defamation suits
The journalist movement Stop Censorship is disturbed by the adoption and signing into law of the Law on Court Duties which in its view seriously restricts freedom of speech and the work of independent press in Ukraine. The movement calls on the President to have amendments added reinstating a progressive scale for court duties in the case of law suits against media outlets and journalists.
The new law effectively reinstates the situation which prevailed up to 2003 and makes it possible for anyone disgruntled by a publication to take the media outlet to court paying a pitiful amount of duty. The amounts in moral compensation which were demanded in such cases until 2003 came to millions of UAH which bore no relation to the amount of duty.
“That led to the bankruptcy and closure of many media outlets which were not able to pay moral damages. The most prominent closure was that of Vseukrainski Vidomosti which lost to the football club Dynamo because it published information about the sale of football player Andriy Shevchenko to the Italian Milan. Due to the newspaper’s inability to pay the amount, it was closed and Andriy Shevchenko did soon move to the Italian football club”.
The changes in 2003 meant that the size of State duty was made proportionate to the size of the claim for moral compensation, with this coming to 10% of the largest claims.
This meant that when lodging a claim against a journalist or media outlet for a million UAH, you had to first pay duty of 100 thousand UAH. These amendments stopped the wave of moral compensation claims which often led to the closure of newspapers and other media outlets.
“Despite appeals from civic organizations and attempts by some deputies to prevent the adoption of the Law on Court Duties in such a form, parliament voted for the law and you did not use your right of veto”, the letter to the President reads. “we consider the signing of this law to be a major step backwards in the information policy of an independent democratic country. Economic pressure on the media is one of the forms of censorship which can be exerted by pro-regime players as well as commercial organizations close to the government”.
Stop Censorship is calling on the President to use his right of legislative initiative and in his capacity as Guarantor of the Constitution to propose changes to Article 4 § 2 of the Laws on Court Duties, reinstating the progressive scale with law suits against media outlets and journalists. It also calls on the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech to facilitate the adoption of such amendments.