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Galka wins appeal against a deputy, will not print retraction

26.01.2024, 14:18

The Ivano-Frankivsk Court of Appeal overturned the ruling of the first instance court which ordered the online media outlet "Galka" to retract their report about deputy Ihor Fris.

The Court of Appeal ruling was issued on January 25, granting the complaint by the company "Legal Technologies Agency", which is the founder of the online outlet "Galka", reports Suspilne.

The company appealed the judgement of the Ivano-Frankivsk City Court of November 16, 2023. The court ordered the publication to retract the information previously reported by the website: that Ihor Fris is among the deputies who refused to sign an appeal to the Verkhovna Rada Chairman, Ruslan Stefanchuk, to revoke the mandates of deputies who were elected from the outlawed pro-Russian parties.

"The November 16, 2023 ruling by the Ivano-Frankivsk City Court is to be cancelled. The defamation lawsuit filed by Ihor Pavlovich Fris against the Legal Technologies Agency LLP and Nazar Bohdanovych Bodnarchuk is to be dismissed," announced Judge Viktor Barkov. The Court of Appeal's ruling enters into force on the day of its adoption and can be contested in the Supreme Court as a cassation procedure within 30 days.

The hearing opened with Prykarpattia deputy Ihor Fris's lawyer, Andriy Storozhuk, asking the court to attach a statement on retraction, as well as screenshots of articles on the "Galka" website. According to him, they are evidence that the media outlet consistently covered Ihor Fris's work in a negative light and that the articles bear signs of pressure on the city court and the court of appeal. The appellant's lawyer, Yevhen Vorobyov, replied that this evidence is unrelated to the subject of the dispute. According to the presiding judge, Viktor Barkov, the petition from Ihor Fris's lawyer arrived at the appeals court a few minutes before the start of the hearing. The court did not grant it.

"The Civil Procedure Code requires that the appellate court only reviews new evidence in exceptional cases. No such reasons were provided by the plaintiff's representative," Viktor Barkov said.

According to the appellant's lawyer, Yevhen Vorobyov, the first instance court ordered them to retract true information, as the "Legal Technologies Agency" has evidence to support it. "Indeed, he did not sign (VRU deputy) Dunda's appeal. Dunda and the civil society movement 'Chesno' told us so in response to our request. The plaintiff himself did not view the information the court tried to refute as misleading. He only listed the headline as the subject of the dispute," said Vorobyov.

The deputy's lawyer, Andriy Storozhuk, confirmed that it was the headline of the "Galka" article that was being challenged, as well as the first paragraph, which mentions a specific person – Ihor Fris.

"The information was not verified before the release of this article – the verification only began after the lawsuit was filed. The documents we attached, i.e. the draft bills, three parliamentary appeals, again, to Stefanchuk, about outlawing the work of the OPFL, are attached to the statement of claim, and they refute the headline combined with the first paragraph of the article on the 'Galka' website," said Storozhuk.

Having come back from the consultation room, Judge Viktor Barkov announced his decision, ruling that the Ivano-Frankivsk Court of Appeals will grant the appeal by "Legal Technologies Agency".

Deputy Ihor Fris was not present at the hearing. In a comment to Suspilne, he said that he plans to file a cassation complaint, because he believes that "Galka" distorted the information about him.

"They write: 'Deputy Fris did not sign the OPFL appeal. I signed three other ones. Which one is this about? This is written on top and in big letters. Or maybe they were talking about another appeal of mine, which they believed that I did not sign, but I did. We asked them to correct this, and that's it. Had they written, 'Deputy Fris did not sign Dunda's appeal, instead he signed three other appeals,' then we wouldn't have any problems," said Fris.

According to him, he did not sign deputy Oleh Dunda's appeal to deprive the OPFL deputies of their mandates because he was not provided with the full text of this appeal. "The author of this appeal, who offered me to sign it, said, 'Will you sign this and that appeal about this and that?" I told him that 'this and that' contradicts the Constitution, so he should let me see the text of the appeal, and then we would decide whether to sign it or not. I did not refuse to sign this appeal, but offered them to submit the full text and emphasized that three appeals have already been signed. He physically did not provide anything," added Fris.

The "Galka" editor-in-chief and "Legal Technologies Agency" CEO, Roman Turiy, noted that they decided to post the article "Prykarpattia deputy refuses to sign the appeal to withdraw the OPFL deputies' mandates, reports Chesno", because the information in it was socially important.

"We saw it on the Chesno Movement's website, which is a universally recognized and trustworthy civil society movement. We reprinted this material for ourselves, because we believe that the people of Prykarpattia should know what our depuies do at the VRU," Turiy said.

According to him, the headline should give the reader an understanding of what the article will be about. "And the headline clearly confirmed that the Prykarpattia deputy did not sign a specific appeal. And further on in the article, there was an explanation about the appeal under such and such number, by such and such deputy," Turiy added.

When asked by the Suspilne correspondent why the media outlet did not mention other appeals by Fris, he replied: "Honestly, we did not know about that. Unfortunately, our journalistic resources are too limited to follow every deputy's steps. I say this objectively, it does not mean that our attitude is in any way biased. We learned later that the deputy has penned alternative draft bills. And there are also many other reports about this on our website."

Roman Turiy noted that he was ready to take part in the hearing in the cassation appeal against the Ivano-Frankivsk Court of Appeal ruling, if Ihor Fris submits it.

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