Libel Law: Where next?


A Resolution on cancelling the vote in its first reading of the much criticized draft law recriminalizing libel has been registered in parliament.  Roman Kabachiy from the Institute for Mass Information asks whether this necessarily guarantees that the law will be withdrawn.  The draft law in question was passed in its first reading on 18 September and proposes amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code reintroducing criminal liability for what courts decide is “libel”.  Roman Kabachiy writes that the discussion the bill has arrived has highlighted four key questions: why it has appeared at all, why now, who it’s convenient for and what we should expect.

Why at all?

The author writes that the answer to this lies “in the overall situation in the country which makes it impossible to doubt the deliberate reduction in freedom of speech by the authorities under the Party of the Regions and Viktor Yanukovych in particular.”

He points to other laws.

Back in 2011 this was the Law on Court Duties which removed the progressive norm meaning that those who demanded astronomical (and crippling) amounts in compensation from media sources and journalists had to themselves pay large amounts of duty.  The norm had been highly instrumental in putting an end to such civil suits being used to destroy inconvenient media publications.

(See Parliament upholds law which could signal crippling defamation suits against the media )

In September 2012 there were two documents of note: .

Cabinet of Ministers Directive No. 672 “On information and explanatory measures in the area of fighting terrorism”. 

In this the government demands from the enforcement bodies and the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee ““timely identification and prevention of the circulation of material containing calls to violent change, the overthrow of the constitutional order; seizure of state power; to encroachments on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability; with incitement to national, racial or religious enmity and hatred; to the carrying out of terrorist acts and actions which threaten public order;…”

(a translation can be found of this worrying document here: Government steps up measures against “actions which threaten public order”)

The very next day the law tabled by Party of the Regions MP V. Zhuravsky on criminalizing libel was passed in its first reading.

Why now?

Zhuravsky himself was open about this saying that it was during the election campaign that there was “a need to introduce such a concept” (as criminal liability for defamation).

Who is it convenient for?

The author clearly sees Zhuravsky’s role as symbolic – somebody had to table the draft law.  In fact, he says, the document was created on a computer in the President’s Administration.

“The Verkhovna Rada after the vote in its first reading does not necessarily have to listen to Zhuravsky (who in theory withdrew the bill on 25 September – translator) like it listened to Yanukovych.  The advantages to the party in power, and it was with a majority from their votes that the law was adopted in the first reading, are clear: to have a dampening effect among journalists already now, before the law is passed. With the deferment of the adoption of the law (since it’s hard to believe that it will be withdrawn considering the thinking of some members of the Party of the Regions) the Party of the Regions has artificially gained a few election points.  It looked better also for Yanukovych who publicly made his “opposition” known and “could demonstrate all the democratic nature and openness of the regime” at the UN General Assembly in New York.

What should we expect?

The author writes that we mustn’t sit and await anything, but fight for the revoking of the vote in the first reading. Taras Shevchenko, Director of the Media Law Institute is convinced that the next parliament will be less obedient and those elected in single-mandate electoral districts will not simply do what they’re told.

From an article by Roman Kabachiy, Institute for Mass Information, posted on Telekritika

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