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Mass media professionals’ statement on misinformation bill

27.01.2020, 18:00
Photo credit: newageks.com
Photo credit: newageks.com

We, representatives of the mass media community and non-governmental organizations, consider as unacceptable the attempts of the Cabinet of Ministers and the pro-governmental faction in the parliament to promote dangerous legislative norms regulating the media sphere under the pretext of introducing modern forms of media space regulation and countering the information aggression.

First of all, it is question of the draft law "On amendments to some legislative acts of Ukraine on ensuring national information security and the right to access to reliable information" (hereinafter - the misinformation bill) and, to a lesser extent, another draft law "On Mass Media" which is already registered in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. (№2693).

It’s our conviction that the misinformation bill drafted by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (ICMS) provides for a dangerous level of interference in journalistic activity and options to restrict freedom of speech. The document contains very ambiguous rules that are unacceptable in a democracy.

The proposed bill does not perform the functions of protecting Ukrainian society from the dissemination of publicly harmful information and misinformation. Instead, it creates mechanisms for controlling the media landscape, not only traditional mass media, but also ordinary citizens who exchange information in any way. Additionally, persons who have not undergone a special registration procedure and are not subject to special control in accordance with state-established procedures shall be deprived of the journalist's rights.

Key issues of concern the bill has:

  • Introduction of a very narrow concept of misinformation, introduction of criminal responsibility for misinformation.The intent of the state to respond to misinformation is clear, but the response mechanism does more harm than good.
  • Establishment of a special mechanism for state interference with the information sector - the News Commissioner - and giving him extremely broad and monopoly powers in the field of information, without sufficient safeguards against abuse.The mechanism proposed in the bill does not meet Ukraine's international obligations, in particular the provisions of Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and ECHR case law, and constitutes undue interference with freedom of speech.
  • Serious and unwarranted narrowing of the rights of journalists and deprivation of their rights through the division of "professional journalists" and "journalists".Forced creation of a special body - the Association of Professional Journalists of Ukraine (APJU). Only APJU press card holders will be able to be called "professional journalists" and enjoy protection of the state, in particular from obstruction of legitimate professional activity. Only "professional journalists" will be able to receive accreditation for public events by public authorities.
  • Introducing the notion of "information disseminator", which covers ordinary citizens (in fact, those users of social networks who make their posts readable by everyone).The imposition of excessive responsibility on citizens, the requirement of their full public identification, which is contrary to international and national legislation and poses a significant threat to freedom of speech.
  • Launching Trust Index that will be assigned to the mass media in the manner and according to criteria approved by the State Commissioner.Such mechanisms should be exclusively self-regulatory.

As such, the bill does violate the very principles of rule of law in Ukraine, which shares European values ​​and seeks to build a full-fledged democratic society. We recommend that the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports to refrain from submitting this bill for consideration in the Parliament, and strongly recommend for the politicians and MPs not to support it. In view of the crucial task of this bill - to counteract misinformation - and the lack of an effective answer to this task in other countries, we also recommend its initiators to return it to the stage of elaborating the concept of countering misinformation and to work together with Ukrainian and international public and scientific experts.

Regarding the “Media bill”, our concern is caused by ambiguous requirements for registration of online media, regulation of foreign media, lack of an efficacious mechanism for counteracting monopolies on the media market and unclear procedure for forming a co-regulatory body. We call on the MPs, and in particular the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, to adjust these issues to the second reading.

The application is open for signature: info@imi.org.ua .

The statement was signed by:

Media Movement (MediaRukh)

Oksana Romanyuk, Institute of Mass Information

Natalia Ligacheva, Detector Media

Oleksiy Matsuka, Donetsk Institute of Information

Dmytro Krapivenko, "Ukrainsky Tyzhden"

Tetyana Pechonchyk, ZMINA Human Rights Center

Svitlana Eremenko, Institute of Democracy named after Philip Orlik

Olga Padiryakova, ZMINA Human Rights Center

Olga Reshetilova, Human Rights Media Initiative

Natalia Sokolenko, Ukrainian Radio, Hromadske Radio

Valentina Troyan, Hromadske Radio

Bohdan Butkevych, Ukraiske Radio

Yuriy Lukanov, freelance journalist.

Alona Romanyuk, "Beyond the News"

Olga Rusina, Hromadske Radio

Irina Zemlyana, Institute of Mass Information

Sonya Koshkina, Editor-in-Chief of Lb.ua

Oleg Bazar, Editor-in-Chief of Lb.ua

Serhiy Sidorov, Head of NGO "Zaporizhzhia Investigation Center"

Andriy Romanenko, journalist, Center for Public Control “DIY-Kramatorsk”

Dmitry Bunetsky, Delo.ua correspondent

Serhiy Shturhetsky, Chairman of the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine

Katerina Sergatskova, chief editor of Zaborona.com

Nina Kuryata, media consultant, trainer, journalist

Yuri Lobko, Director of Nova Media Group, Chief Editor of Economic News

As IMI reported, on January 21, the NGO "Institute of Mass Information" prepared a brief analysis of the so-called "misinformation" bill, which was published on the website of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Ukraine.

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