11.12.2000 | Sergiy Potapenko, Deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper ‘Chernigivski vidomosti’

Everybody wants to control the press. Through the court


Head of the council of the public organization ‘Pravochin’, Chernigiv

Impressible growth of libel cases against mass media in the recent time does not surprise anybody. To start a libel case against a newspaper has become fashionable. And why not – one may loose Hr 17 and win from thousands to tens of thousands.

If no changes are introduced to the corresponding laws, then our courts will consider libel cases against press exclusively, and the normal place of a journalist in his work-time will become the courtroom.

The claims to cancel information or to protect honor and dignity are a very usual phenomenon. The bright example is the case of Chernigiv administration of ‘Oblpotrebsoyuz’ (a state in a state, as they call themselves) that went ahead of others. They asked the court ‘to make the editorial board of ‘Chernigivski vidomosti’ to publish information about the methods that are used by the above-mentioned organization for the improvement of functioning of the central market’. They even appended these materials to their claim. The materials appeared to be five pages long. That was a well-prepared massive response to a thirty-line critical note.

The peculiarity of this case, in my opinion, lies in the fact that the plaintiff does not refute a single sentence of the criticism. Treating Article 37 of the Ukrainian law ‘On the press in Ukraine’, the plaintiff asks the court to abuse the law, that is to interfere in the affairs of the publisher and make the editorial board to publish what the plaintiff wants.

Really, it is absurd. Fancy that a man is walking in the street and sees a fine house. Next he turns to the court with the demand to consider him the owner of this property, having absolutely no grounds for it. And the highly respected court begins to think whether to give this house to the passer-by or to leave it to its owner.

The district court had two sessions. For half a day the representatives of the editorial board wasted in the oblast court, where the most experienced judges considered the cassation complaint of the ‘Oblpotrebsoyuz’. At last they made clear who was ‘the house owner’.

This is a tiny case, but the tendency is frightening. If courts begin to consider claims to newspapers from everyone who has his own opinion of any social phenomenon mentioned in a publication, then under our pluralism…

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