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Committee on freedom of speech proposed to update concept of "journalist" in legislation

02.02.2022, 19:02

The parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech is going to elaborate proposals to amend the laws on the refined status of journalists by March 1. 

This decision was made unanimously by the committee members at a meeting on February 1, as Detektor Media reported.

The committee also decided to bring in line by February 11 on one of the amendments to draft law #6443 , namely to revoke a list of documents from the note to Article 345 1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, it is question of the documents confirming the status of a journalist, focusing on journalistic activity as a qualification attribute, rather than on lack of a certain status. If there is no agreed position, the registered bill will be submitted for consideration. If it is, this text will be submitted for consideration.

This decision was made after discussing the draft #6443 "On Amendments to the Criminal Code of Ukraine to improve the protection of journalistic activities" with representatives of public media organizations and members of the public council at the committee. The initiators of the project are MPs Tetyana Tsyba, Serhiy Shvets, Nestor Shufrych and others. The Institute of Mass Information contributed to elaboration of these amendments also.

According to the chairman of the committee Nestor Shufrych, the initiative of the project is caused by the need to amend the norm that journalistic professionalism must be confirmed by a journalist's press card. "Suddenly, the proposal to amend this rule got criticism. We are considering this issue today to clear up this misunderstanding. That is, we want to hear why what we considered an extension of responsibilities, you consider an opportunity for abuse, "- he said at the meeting of the committee.

Oksana Romanyuk, IMI Executive Director, explained that the motivation for these changes was based on the will to protect the rights of journalists, which are in fact limited by this certificate amendment. "Namely, the rights of online media, which, according to investigators, do not have the credentials that can allow journalists to be considered as journalists. They are also freelancers and other categories of journalists. We have been advised by experts from the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in preparing this amendment. And we were embarrassed by this reaction to our proposal. But in order to be constructive, we are open to dialogue and invite the community to revoke this amendment from the bill and prepare a separate draft that will focus on the status of a journalist, "she said, adding that common European practice is to protect journalism and not just status.She noted There was a real problem in Ukraine that they deliver to nobody knows who.

Oksana Romanyuk also suggested creating a working group and make this amendment:  broadened, adding a list of documents that will additionally serve as confirmation of journalistic activity.

IMI lawyer Ali Safarov added that the bill does not change the status of the journalist, as it is defined by a number of other laws, which stipulate that the journalist is a person who is regularly or freelance engaged in the constant collection of information. “Our amendment only affects the strict list of documents specified in the Criminal Code, on the basis of which the investigator could initiate a criminal case. We thought that if there was no such a strict list, it would expand the possibility to protect journalists. Because investigators are now obliged to adhere to this strict list. That is, if the documents provided by the journalist do not correspond to this list, the criminal proceedings are dropped, ”he explained. According to Ali Safarov, the bill is very important and should not be revoked from consideration due to one remark. The bill has a lot of innovative elements,the notion of “violence against the journalist” is made broadened, for instance, it is also question of cyber-bulling and so on

The head of the Commission on Journalistic Ethics, Andriy Kulikov, said that he generally supported the philosophy of the #6443 bill. “There are indeed some innovations, but we encounter a contradiction with the press cards, which will never be resolved until we resolve the issue of a single Ukrainian press card. So, I am in favor of considering this issue as a whole. Since IMI is showing good will and is ready to either remove or change this amendment, I think it is worthy of praise, and I do not see any problem here. The status of the journalist has been determined. But is the status of the media defined for all media, isn’t? ” - he said. He believes that determining the status of a journalist does not make sense if the status of the media in which he works is not determined.

The first secretary of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, Lina Kushch, spoke about the negative reaction of journalists to this amendment, who said that one part of journalists could not be deprived of protection in order to protect another part. She proposed now to withdraw the bill and return to its refinement in a working group of the committee, which was established after the parliamentary hearings in November 2019 on the safety of journalists. And also to hold discussions with practicing journalists.

Nestor Shufrych said that the issue of determining the status of journalists in general became hot-button question, because it was somewhat outdated. According to him, this does not require waiting for the adoption of a major law on the media, but it is necessary to amend the existing laws, which currently define the status of a journalist. He proposed a draft decision: by February 11, the co-authors of the bill #6443 Tetyana Tsyba and Serhii Shvets to settle the issue of an agreed version of the bill. "If an agreed new version is not worked out, one should leave the current version. One should re-register by 10:00 on February 14 so that I can propose this project on the agenda at the conciliation board, ”the chairman of the committee said.

In addition, the members of the committee decided to develop and submit to the Verkhovna Rada amendments to the current laws on defining the concept of a journalist by March 1, together with all interested representatives of NGOs.

It will be recalled that Bill # 6443 was registered in the Verkhovna Rada on December 17, 2021. The draft proposes to clarify the list of offenses and increase sanctions in Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, to amend Article 345 1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine to establish punishment not only for threatening violence against a journalist, but also for violence other than infliction of beatings, light and moderate bodily injuries. He also proposes to delete from the note to Article 345 1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine the list of documents confirming the status of a journalist, focusing on journalistic activity as a qualifying feature, and not on the presence or absence of a certain status.

You can read more about the innovations of the bill №6443 in the insight by Ali Safarov .

A number of media organizations, including the Commission on Journalistic Ethics, the Ukrainian Institute of Media and Communications, the Institute for Regional Press Development, and others, opposed Bill #6443 on improving the protection of journalism.



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