Ukraine draft law on decency threatens freedom of speech
This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Ukraine: Gesetz zum Schutz der öffentlichen Ordnung bedroht Redefreih...
The Ukrainian Parliament approved on 18 October 2011, in first reading, a draft law that proposes amendments to the present law on the Protection of Public Decency Law, which puts freedom of speech at risk.
The draft bill is said to be aimed at banning pornography, the use of words or images of an "obscene, vulgar and brutal" nature, extremist and offensive content and the defence of violence, in the print and broadcast media including the Internet.
However, the text is so vague and broad in its definitions and so open to interpretation that it may easily lead to the limitation of the press freedom. The promotion of "terrorism and other forms of criminal activity" can easily be misinterpreted or used to penalise any kind of criticism of the government.
The notion of the defence of "public decency" covers a very large range of subjects including appeals for war, "Ukrainophobia," humiliation of handicapped persons and promotion of cigarette smoking which are all equally treated as crimes.
Even more disturbingly, the bill gives the National Commission of Ukraine for Protection of Public Morals the power to determine the degree to which any content comes under a banned category, and require, without the need for a court order, Internet Service Providers to "restrict free access" to the respective content within 24 hours. There is no supervision of the committee and no mechanism to appeal its decisions.
Ukrainian journalists and NGOs are worried that the bill may be used to restrict the freedom of press and that acts of provocation may even be used to shut down websites that are critical of the authorities.
International groups such as Reporters without Borders, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) together with its European group, the European Federation of Journalists, have expressed their concern related to the draft bill and urged the Ukrainian Government to dismiss the law in its second reading.
"This draft legislation leaves press freedom in the balance and suggests that Ukrainian authorities are pursuing less than high minded intentions of gagging media. We urge Parliament to strike this bill out and work with the media in exposing prejudice and hatred. Journalists should be left to police their profession through self -regulation and existing civil laws can address any press offences," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. Reporters Without Borders draws attention on the fact that the draft bill is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"We regret that this bill does not weigh the legitimate need to combat terrorism and pornography against the public's right to information about subjects of general interest. This principle nonetheless lies at the heart of all the rulings that have been handed down by the European Court of Human Rights," states the organisation reminding that the bearer of bad news should not be confused with those responsible with them. "Journalists and bloggers are not responsible for the events they have a duty to report."
Appeal to Parliament about dangers of "public decency" bill (28.10.2011)
New Ukrainian Law Could Block Any Site Including Facebook or Youtube
Draft law with Amendments to the Ukraine Law "On the Protection of Public
Morals" (only in Ukrainian,10.2011)
European Journalists Warn of Threat to Press Freedom in Ukraine ahead of Key
Debate on Protection of 'Public Morals' Bill (27.10.2011)