DEFAMATION: EVERYONE MAY FALL A VICTIM
Most recently, Mr. Terry Davis, the Council of Europe Secretary General, called on the organization`s member-states to impose an official ban on criminal prosecution of journalists for defamation.
Defamation is generally understood as issuance of statements, which damage the reputation of or disgrace a person but may not be fulse that, in the criminal law, is known as a crime closed to lible or slander.
In the West, defamation is considered as either a crime against the law on mass media (France) or a particular lible case (Germany).
One of those who had fallen a victim of cyber-defamation was the Arab American activist Navar Shora. He received numerous angry messages form his fellow countrymen in reply to an electronic letter sent from his e-mail address. As a result, he found himself among haters of the Americans and Jews. Later, Shora was proved not to have written and therefore sent that letter, but fell a victim of the new, sophisticated form of defamation and had to spend a long while to wash himself off.
According to the recent report in “Otdokhni”, one of the Russia’s most popular magazine, daughters of the first cosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin brought a suit against the film “Gagarin’s Grandson”, claiming the story was not true and the name of their father was illegally used and discredited. As a result, the Moscow Babushkinskiy District Court forbade the filmmakers to use the cosmonaut’s name and obliged them to pay 5,000 rubles of moral damage compensation to each plaintiff.
There are a lot of such examples to give. Sometimes, the damage caused to the reputation of a person turns out to be irrecoverable. This is about defamation. However, statements by some journalists, their views and assessments expressed in an inadmissible form, often containing foul language discrediting a person, cannot be qualified as defamation. Should the discrediting information is false, it must be qualified as a grave libel and hooliganism, which fall under the criminal law.
I would like to mention that punishments for defamation are envisaged in more that one third of the Council of Europe`s member-countries.
Here is the first deputy chairperson of the Russian State Duma Lubov Sliska`s sharp and clear response to Terry Davis` call: “As is known, issuance of biased articles ordered by someone else is widespread in our country; sometimes such publications are targeted against concrete personalities, including politicians; some people order this sort of materials against others using journalists. Therefore, responsibility of journalists cannot be abolished until such a practice is not extirpated.”
The main problem of the post-soviet journalists is inability to strike a balance between the freedom of speech and responsibility. It is no secret that it is venality of some Azerbaijani journalists disseminating false and biased information i.e. libel that makes them appear in court, since libel, in accordance with our law, envisages a criminal sanction.
Provocative behavior in the press should imply at least clear and transparent way of doing business - nothing of the sort.
It was also mentioned by the Head of the Department of Socio-political Affairs at the President`s Administration Mr. Ali Hasanov, while commenting on some media outlets’ reaction to the arrests of journalists: “Azerbaijan is a legal state, all are equal before the law, nobody’s rights exceed those of others, and nobody is given the right to violate other’s rights. It concerns everybody – journalists, officials, representatives of other professions.”
Head of the Press Council Mr. Aflatun Amashov shares this view: “All are equal before the law. If a newspaper allows insulting statements on its pages, it has nothing to do with journalism.”
Importance of discussing freedom of speech and press in our country in the context of international law was mentioned at the international conference on the freedom of speech and press recently held in Azerbaijan.
Speaking to the conference Mr. Ali Hasanov said there were 30,000 journalists in Azerbaijan, of whom nine had been arrested. “It has nothing to do with violation of the freedom of speech by authorities,” he noted adding: “there are nearly 3500 media outlets in Azerbaijan. Isn`t it a clear evidence of the freedom of speech in our country?”
Focusing on the democratic process taking place in Azerbaijan in his address to the conference participants, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said: “Creation of tolerant attitude towards sound criticism in the society, improvement of the material and technical basis of the press and professional skills of journalists, as well as their observance of ethic norms set important tasks to both state and journalist organizations. Formation and development of the independent press serving the progress of a democratic society requires all relevant bodies to adopt a special and responsible approach to this business.”
Touching upon whether Azerbaijan is ready to pass a law on defamation, Mr. Ali Hasanov said such a step would be premature for some objective reasons and because of low professional level of Azerbaijani journalists. He also noted that the developed democratic countries of Europe had better pass the above-mentioned law first setting thereby an example for Azerbaijan. And not to use Azerbaijan as a law testing ground, we would add. The government of Azerbaijan concerns over the fate of every journalist under arrest. However, the main requirement of the legal state is observance of laws by all citizens, and respect to others` rights.
“We cannot allow willfulness and anarchy as well as restrict the rights of one person because of other`s profession, irrespective of the international structures` approach to the issue of journalists’ arrest. No connection exists between the freedom of speech and press, insulting people and humiliating their honor and dignity,” Ali Hasanov stated.
In his book “Towards Democracy: Thinking of Legacy”, Head of the Presidential Administration, Academician Ramiz Mehdiyev touches upon manipulations in the opposition press: “Although the opposition media should have played a role of kind of the public opinion’s integrator, they largely used to propose pseudo ideas, which not only failed to win wide public support but, on the contrary, turned the population against themselves, because of the attempts to cast slurs upon all that had been done in the country. Falsity of such an approach was also seen in the “war of mud-slingings” that has become a usual practice.”
The opposition media accused the authorities even of the death of the editor of the Monitor magazine Elmar Huseynov known for his sharp criticism of both authorities and the opposition. That was a serious provocation.
Therefore, thrice right are those who claim that having passed the defamation law we could unwillingly get tens of such murders.