Criminal liability for censorship – gloss for the West?
The Verkhovna Rada has adopted as a base a draft law introducing criminal liability for censorship. Journalists and media lawyers welcome the initiative but are sceptical regarding enforcement.
The draft law tabled by Olena Kondratyuk proposes criminal liability for censorship, as well as for violating the right to freedom of literary, artistic, scientific or technical creation. It also envisages that liability for an offence against a journalist carrying out his professional duties should be equated to that for those committed against law enforcement officers.
Journalist from the Media Law Institute, Ihor Rozkladai welcomes such initiatives however believes that parliamentarians will support them merely so that the West does not criticise the Ukrainian authorities for infringements of freedom of speech. He also does not believe that criminal liability for censorship would be often applied in practice against members of the authorities or media owners.
“I find it hard to believe that the Internal Affairs bodies would be ready to prosecute somebody under that article and would take on such cases. Although in purely formal terms it’s a good norm, and could perhaps do something towards stopping interference by owners of channels”. Ihor Rozkladai hopes that the norm on criminal liability for censorship would make the National Commission for the Protection of Public Morality a bit more restrained.
He stresses that there already is an article in the Criminal Code on obstruction of the work of journalists however it is applied in court practice extremely seldom. In general the law enforcement bodies re-classify a crime against a journalist as an administrative offence or hooliganism.
Ihor Rozkladai is positive about the idea of having a special representative of the Human Rights Ombudsperson on issues of freedom of speech. He again warns that such a post should not be a mere formality, with the person carrying out purely bureaucratic tasks.