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Claims worth millions threaten media, says IMI

(IMI/IFEX) - IMI is concerned that a new law on court fees signed into law by President Viktor Yanukovych on July 28th does not contain provisions to protect journalists from unreasonable lawsuits for defense of honor, dignity and professional reputation.

The law enters into force on November 1, 2011.

Currently, court fees are set at 10 percent of the amount of a claim against a journalist or media outlet. A plaintiff seeking moral damages of one million hryvnas (approx. US$125,100), for example, would be required to pay 100,000 hryvnas in court fees. Once the law is passed, however, plaintiffs will be able to bring claims worth millions against newspapers and other media outlets by paying a court fee of less than 3,000 hryvnas (approx. US$375).

The current law on court fees, which has been in effect for the past eight years, has prevented plaintiffs from bringing unreasonably high claims against media outlets, according to media experts.

Officials have also used lawsuits against media outlets as an excuse to suppress the outlets when the courts have ruled in favour of the plaintiff. This has been the case for newspapers in particular. In one such example in the late 1990's, a court ordered the newspaper "Vseukrajinski Vidomosti" to pay 3.5 million hryvnas (approx. US$438,000) to the Kyiv-based Dynamo football club over a story suggesting the club was going to sell one of its best players to a foreign team. The paper was later closed as a result of the claim against it.

A proposal by the Institute for Media Law, introduced by MP Andriy Shevchenko, sought to retain the 10 percent court fee in cases where the claim for moral damages was more than 300 times the local minimum wage. The proposal was rejected.

Statements of concern by other NGOs, including IMI, have also been ignored.

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