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Draft law proposes closure of media outlets for broadcast of violent images

(IMI/IFEX) – The Institute of Mass Information (IMI) is calling attention to proposed legislative changes that would seriously restrict freedom of speech in Ukraine and significantly worsen the reporting environment for the media.

On 18 October, Parliament approved a draft law amending the existing law "On the protection of public morals". The document provides for restrictions on the broadcast of TV and radio programs containing "elements of violence or cruelty, depictions of dead bodies, badly injured people, scenes including blood which may cause fear or terror, encourage mutilation, suicide, or acts of vandalism, or any positive representation of violence".

Violation of any of the provisions of the article could lead to the cancellation of a broadcaster's license.

IMI is concerned that the vagueness of the bill's wording could result in increased pressure on independent media.

The bill also obliges operators and Internet providers "to take immediate (within 24 hours) measures to restrict access to electronic information defined as 'erotic' by the National Commission of Ukraine on the Protection of Public Morals".

The bill names the National Commission of Ukraine on the Protection of Public Morals as the body responsible for enforcing state policy in the area of public morality.

In another development, the Ukrainian parliament has now opened the door for millions of dollars in potential claims against the media after it refused to amend the so called "law on court fees" adopted on 8 July, which would reduce the court fees for compensation or moral damage claims. During the Kuchma era, such claims were used as a way to curb the independent media.

The law on court fees enters into force on November 1, abolishing existing mechanisms protecting the media and journalists from unjustified claims brought in connection with their professional activities.

The public appealed to President Yanukovych to veto the bill but as yet there has been no reaction from Ukrainian authorities.
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