Ukraine draft law on decency threatens freedom of speech

By EDRi · November 2, 2011

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Deutsch: [Ukraine: Gesetz zum Schutz der öffentlichen Ordnung bedroht Redefreiheit |]

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),41307.html

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European Journalists Warn of Threat to Press Freedom in Ukraine ahead of Key
Debate on Protection of ‘Public Morals’ Bill (27.10.2011)‘public-morals-bill