Poroshenko lawmakers seek criminalization of defamation
As Ukrainians celebrate the fiveyear anniversary of the start of the EuroMaidan Revolution that advanced freedoms and rid the people of President Viktor Yanukovych, lawmakers on Nov. 20 quietly submitted to parliament a draft law that would criminalize slander and libel.
Three Ukrainian lawmakers from the 135-seat pro-presidential Bloc of Petro Poroshenko in the Verkhovna Rada submitted the draft law on defamation. The authors are Mykola Palamarchuk, Artur Palatnyi, and Oleh Velikin.
However, Hromadske news organization, citing presidential press secretary Svyatoslav Tsegolko, said Poroshenko is against the proposal and also that the faction will not support such a change.
While English-language law frequently defines libel as written defamation and slander as spoken, the new proposed law uses the word to broadly contain all defamation.
This is the 11th attempt to criminalize defamation since 2001, when it was removed as a criminal offense. The old criminal code was in force for more than 40 years — from 1960 to 2001 — and preserved many Soviet practices.
Palamarchuk has personal motivation, according to LB.ua, a news portal. The lawmaker got bad press after his personal aide was named as a suspected go-between in ordering the killing of anti-corruption activist Kateryna Gandziuk.
Gandziuk died on Nov. 4, months after she was attacked with acid on July 31 in Kherson, a city of 290,000 people located 550 kilometers south of Kyiv.
However, Palamarchuk told LB.ua he did not believe his draft law would be passed. “I just want to… raise the attention of society to the problem of the lack of penalties for defamation,” he said.
Another of the co-authors of the bill, Palatnyi, told the Kyiv Post that the lack of criminal punishment for libel and slander was “killing society and the country” allowing slander with impunity.
He said his bill is different from previous bills on defamation, as “those bills were directed against journalists and activists, whereas we stand against those politicians and bureaucrats who spread lies.”
However, a Kyiv Post review of the bill found that the penalty for defamation cases increases if it’s republished, either online or offline, meaning that it can severely affect the media too.
Palatnyi said the bill was not perfect, but that it would be improved when discussed in parliament committees and will then protect “the honor and dignity of each Ukrainian.” He said society needs the bill because people are tired of the media branding the same people first “heroes, and then bribe-takers.”
Palatnyi himself faced a criminal investigation in 2013 and negative media coverage, which he said was due to the wrongdoings of the regime of ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates.
The bill proposes that a new arti- cle on defamation be added to the Criminal Code.
The suggested definition of the offense aligns with the English definition of defamation: “intentionally spreading manifestly false information that dishonors another person or tarnishes his or her reputation.”
Those found guilty can face up to three years in prison and indefinite prohibition. The bill’s authors say the legislation is in line with that of the United States, and major European countries like France and Germany.
However, the current text of the law does not specify the same high thresholds of proof that are stipulated in the libel laws of Western democracies.
In the United States, for example, a politician suing someone for libel needs to prove actual malice, which is a high legal benchmark to meet.
And while in its editorial guidelines the UK’s national broadcaster the BBC recognizes libel or defamation to be the “biggest legal pitfall relating to the BBC’s output, with serious financial consequences,” it also says that there are good chances to fend off libel claims in court if broadcasters “have good evidence to back up what they say.”
Left to right: Lawmakers Mykola Palamarchuk, Artur Gerasimov, Artur Palatnyi, and Mustafa Nayyem speak during a parliament session on Jan. 19, 2018. (UNIAN)