The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine wants to introduce criminal liability for defamation. A draft law on amendments to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine on increasing responsibility for the attack upon honor, dignity and business reputation of people, has been passed in its first reading.

Author of the bill, MP from the Party of Regions Vitaly Zhuravsky explained that these changes introduce the concept of "defamation" to the codes.

Thus, the draft bill stipulates that for deliberate spreading of false information, discrediting honor, dignity and business reputation of a person, the offender faces a fine in the amount of from 200 to 500 tax-free minimum wages, or correctional labor up to one year, or imprisonment up to two years.

In case the false information is being spread in mass media or by investigators, prosecutors or judges, the offender faces a fine in the amount of from 500 to 1000 tax-free minimum wages, or correctional labor from one to two year, or imprisonment from two to five years with the ban to hold certain positions or to be engaged into certain activities from one to three years.

Another innovation experts focus on is introduction of the concept 'grave consequences', including financial damage in the amount of 50 or more times bigger than the tax-free minimum wage.

As a reminder, Russia has also recently introduced criminal responsibility for defamation. The criminal responsibility for similar crime exists in Germany, France, Poland and a number of other countries.

ForUm has interviewed experts and MPs to learn their opinion on the adopted document.

Yehor Benkendorf, director general of the First national channel, honored cultural worker of Ukraine:

- I believe, the draft bill will undergo changes for its second reading. I hope professionals and experts of media sphere will be invited for discussions and consultations. I want to inform in advance that national TV company of Ukraine is ready to join the discussions and propose its amendments.

I also believe that the matter of reliable information, responsibility and defamation must be within sight of society and media. But we must protect both, the interests of citizens, who may suffer from stove-piping and the rights of journalists on unbiased and open professional activity.

Andriy Kulik, independent expert, journalist:

- Under current conditions this draft bill can be considered as a warning from MPs to journalists; 'don't be too heavy, your actions might have unpleasant consequences." This is my personal opinion. My colleagues speak a lot about pressure, and I believe the majority of journalists will react in such way. However, the draft bill does not concern only journalists.

As for the consequences, I want this law to make journalists check information for publishing more thoroughly in order to observe professional standards. In general, this document is one of the most powerful means of protection and self-protection of journalist. However, if the law is adopted, journalists might be persecuted more actively through the courts.

Anyway, I hope the self-preservation instinct of journalists will work for improvement of professional skills and standards, not for self-censorship. In general, taking into account the judicial system we have now in Ukraine, this law is not safe.

Oleksandr Holub, MP from Communist party faction, deputy head of the parliamentary committee on freedom of speech and information:

- I must say that responsible journalism has not been established in our country yet. Instead of proper investigation, journalists often publish rumors and false information, which discredits a political party or a certain person. What can I say, I faced such situation may times. Under current conditions, the adoption of the law is a necessity.

I don't think the law may create problems for an honest person. If a journalistic investigation has been carried out property and facts are confirmed by documents and witnesses, mass media worker will have no problems.

Olha Herasymiuk, MP from Our Ukraine faction, journalist:

- With joint forces of journalists and public activists we have managed to remove such discriminating concept 'defamation', as it leaves no room for freedom of speech and protection of human rights. The document has been passed in its first reading only, thus the new parliament must start with it on its first session, I believe. As it is, the draft bill allows to  shut mouth of everyone who uses social networks or other means to declare his civil position.

I believe that if the ruling comes into force, it will give a possibility to sentence anybody for his different views, basing on a single message in the net. Let alone journalists...

Oleksandr Paliy, independent expert-political scientist:

- This innovation is especially cynical, 'cause for journalists and ordinary people it provides for up to three year of imprisonment, while state officials will face only fines. Everywhere in the world the crimes committed by officials are punished more severe than the crimes committed by ordinary people, but in this interesting draft bill everything is vice versa.

Anyway, I don't think it will work or will bring any use, especially when we have Internet all around. It will be complicated to shut off internet in Ukraine in XXI century. 

Oleh Zarubinski, MP from People's party faction, head of the parliamentary committee on human rights, national minorities and interethnic relations:

- Our country has seen many cases when defamation is used to destroy a rival. He himself, members of his family and relatives become targets of false information, and as a result, the person is destroyed. It concerns not only public people, politicians or journalists. Such things happen in business and social life as well.

I want to remind that the document has been passed in its first reading only, thus it faces other discussions and amendments. However, without a doubt we must strengthen responsibility for the words, which sometimes ruin lives of people.

Yevhen Leshan, political expert:

- The draft bill concerns not only journalists, but also investigators and judges. Besides, there is a paragraph stipulating that the punishment occurs only in case of grave consequences.

However, this improvement does not exclude abuse, as Ukrainian society still lacks democracy. This law may be used against journalists.


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