Parliament upholds law which could signal crippling defamation suits against the media
On 18 October the Verkhovna Rada refused to support Mykola Tomenko’s draft Law No. 9079 on amendments to Article 4 of the Law on Court Fees with regard to fee rates on moral compensation claims. The bill received only 19 votes from the 334 National Deputies registered.
The bill would have diversified the rates in moral compensation claims depending on the size of the law suit, as was the case until the new law was passed this year. Mykola Tomenko said that the amendments would protect media outlets and journalists against crippling defamation suits.
As reported, the Verkhovna Rada passed the new Law on Court Fees on 8 July. There were calls from media and rights groups for the President to veto it. These calls were ignored and the law is due to come into force on 1 November.
This 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. A person can thus pay 2, 955 UAH and demand millions in moral compensation from a journalist or media outlet that published an article the claimant objected to. Before 2003 when a differential system came into force, such defamation suits had been used 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.