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Lithuanian law outlawing mockery draws protests

(WAN-IFRA/IFEX) - 6 August 2009 - The European Newspaper Publishers Association and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers have called on European governments to help ensure that Lithuania respects freedom of expression and freedom of the press following approval of a law that makes it a crime to ridicule someone.

The law would also bar information that promotes homosexual lifestyles, or information that promotes "bad eating."

The two press organisations said the Lithuanian law, designed to protect children against "the detrimental effect of public information", could limit satirical speech and prevent the press from exercising its right to criticise and satirize, and the public's right to receive such content.

They called on the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the Council of Europe to "consider appropriate steps to ensure that this amended law respects the fundamental right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press."

"Newspaper publishers reject any legal provisions and other means that may oblige the press to exercise self-censorship or any attempts to impose regulation of content under the guise of self-regulation," a statement from the two organisations said.

The amended law, called the "Law on Protection of Minors Against Detrimental Effect of Public Information," had been vetoed by former President Valdas Adamkus. But following the 14 July vote of approval by the parliament, President Dalia Grybauskaite is obliged to sign it.

The law would:

- Outlaw dissemination of any information that portrays mockery of a person and outlaw "mockery or humiliation" on grounds of nationality, race, gender, origin, disability, sexual orientation, social status, language, religion, belief or attitudes. The law previously stated that "an incitement to discrimination" would be outlawed, but the new references to "mockery or humiliation" are different in nature and vague.

- Outlaw the dissemination of public information that agitates for homosexual, bisexual and polygamous relations. "In the interest of a press that can reflect a diverse and multicultural society, newspaper publishers condemn such attempts to repress the freedom of expression and call for the reconsideration of this point," the statement said.

- Outlaw information that promotes "bad eating." "In light of the fact that the adopted law also applies to advertising, newspaper publishers are deeply concerned as to what would be considered 'bad eating' as this vague wording has the potential to outlaw advertising for a wide range of food products," the statement said.

Although the law acknowledges that self-regulation of public information producers "shall be taken into consideration," newspaper publishers believe that self-regulation of journalists should be "respected" rather than simply taken into consideration.

The law also declares that certain types of information are exempt from the law, but does not specifically exempt dissemination of information for legitimate news reporting purposes.

The full statement can be found at
http://www.wan-press.org/article18190.html

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