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New legislation aimed at protecting media from damage claims only "a first step", says Adil Soz

(Adil Soz/IFEX) - On 16 April 2011, the new law "On making amendments and addenda to some legislative acts of Kazakhstan for the improvement of civil law" came into force. The document stipulates that Kazakh legal bodies that sue mass media outlets and journalists for the protection of their honor, dignity, and business reputation cannot claim financial compensation for moral damages.

According to new law, the plaintiff in such cases has the right to request free publication of its reply in the same media outlet. A request to publish a refutation, or to receive a response from the media outlet in a dispute, may be considered by a court only if the media outlet refuses to publish the reply or closes before a reply can be published (e.g. files for bankruptcy).

There is one additional bit of good news. According to the Union of Judges of the Republic of Kazakhstan, regional courts around the country will soon appoint judge-coordinators for relations with the media. This will help journalists to more quickly receive the information they need in certain cases.

The day before the new law came into force, the International Foundation for Freedom of Speech Protection (Adil Soz) issued a statement praising the deputies who defended the amendments to the law at the various stages of its development in Parliament. At the same time, however, Adil Soz reminded the Kazakh government and Parliament that the amendments to the new law are just a first step towards solving many issues that the Kazakh media still struggle with. "In particular, it is time to start work on restricting legal actions for cases of defamation," said Adil Soz.

Kazakhstan's criminal defamation legislation continues to stifle criticism. Adil Soz and other Kazakh media organizations continue to call for the complete decriminalization of defamation. Adil Soz believes that another new law, "On Introducing Amendments to Some Laws of Kazakhstan for the Further Humanization of Criminal Legislation and the Strengthening of Legal Safeguards in the Criminal Process", which took effect on 4 February 2011, does not completely resolve the problem of criminalized defamation since punishments for defamation have only been reduced.

Another issue which remains to be resolved is the setting of limits to the amount a plaintiff can request from a media outlet for moral damages in lawsuits involving the protection of personal non-property rights. It is not unusual for a plaintiff to request amounts exceeding a media outlet's assets. Adil Soz recommends that legislators amend the current law in order to eliminate the possibility of bankruptcy and closure of media outlets. The organization also believes that media outlets should not be held liable for non-malicious moral damages suffered by a plaintiff.

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