Ukrainian officials have put the controversial libel law on hold following media protests by local newspapers and TV channels.
Top Ukrainian newspapers and TV channels published black banners on their websites in a joint protest against a bill criminalising libel, which they fear will suffocate freedom of expression.
The bill, already passed in a first reading by the country’s parliament on September 18, envisages stiff fines and jail terms of up to five years for anyone found guilty of defamation.
Publications taking part in the action included the investigative news site Ukrainska Pravda, English-language weekly Kyiv Post, the usually pro-government Segodnya and the Russian-language news magazine Korrespondent.
The websites of pro-opposition television channels TVi and Channel 5 also printed the banners. In all, around 20 news organisations were involved in the protest.
"Stand up for the right to know. Say no to the libel law," said the slogan printed by all the publications against a black background below an image of the bars of jail cell.
A link led to a page naming all the 244 deputies who had voted in favour of the law, including their official email addresses and phone numbers, encouraging people to get in touch and "ask them why they did it." A Facebook group has been started to support this cause.
"The bill will ruin freedom of expression in the country as it will force a lot of journalists to stop any criticism of the authorities since it could be qualified as libel," the media outlets said in an open petition to parliament.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said that "such a return to the past would have a major impact on freedom of information in Ukraine. Journalists already have to confront many dangers and an increase in self-censorship inside news organizations."
The controversy over the bill has also further intensified tensions between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition led by jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko ahead of October 28 parliamentary polls.
Source: DCMF, AFP