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Law on insult and defamation – unacceptable for the Macedonian internet community

While the large Macedonian media are silent about the draft-law on civil liability for insult and defamation, the Macedonian online community is becoming louder in expressing its revolt.

The community is citing a number of reasons for its resistance to sections of the draft-law on civil liability for insult and defamation related to online communication.

‘The draft-law in Macedonia with its second reading on October 9 (Tuesday) this year, threatens to significantly change the way we blog and the way websites and online providers in Macedonia work. This means that our blogs and websites can be taken down without a court order when someone complains, and this would mean destruction of a huge number of websites and blogs that are currently free to disseminate information. This means that we are deprived from our basic human right – freedom of speech. Do you actually want us to be like the eastern half-democratic countries where certain words are banned by law?

This means that I, as the owner of a website and a free blogger should be careful of every word that can be interpreted as an insult, even if that word appears in the comments section, and I would therefore have to turn off comments from being instantly displayed and moderate them 24 hours a day. Even if I do this, there is a possibility of my website and blog being disconnected without notice, only if someone complained.’ wrote Daniel Kraljevski on his blog.

Although the draft-law on civil liability for insult and defamation doesn’t mention the terms ‘blogger’ and ‘blog’, Macedonian bloggers do not assess this as positive, but exactly because of these terms’ omission and the vaguely defined concepts, the bloggers say there is danger of selective interpretation of the provisions of the law.

‘I oppose this draft-law, among other things because it is not clearly defined what exactly is covered by the term online service provider. If someone on my blog writes a statement about someone because I gave him the right to comment, without being able to check his statements, and if it is established that the person has been slandering, I too take the risk to be punished for it. My other option is to delete his comment within 24 hours and thus censor my readers and deny them the right of expression of opinion. And when it comes to writing my own articles, I will have to choose every single word very carefully, if I want to avoid going to court’ said blogger Emrah Redzepi.

The section of the draft-law for civil liability for insult and defamation which refers to online communication has been assessed by Macedonian bloggers, among other things, as being unconstitutional and denying them the possibility and the legally guaranteed right to publicly express their opinion. The Media Development Centre, in the analysis of this draft-law presented on October 5, 2012 indicates that inter alia, the draft-law, and in particular Article 23 ‘fits the definition of censorship, and censorship is prohibited with paragraph 5 of the Article 16 of the Constitution.’

“I believe the draft-law is not contributing to the development of freedom of speech and thought. In my opinion, the sections where the way of communication through the so-called new media is being limited are particularly arguable – especially when it comes to blogging as a way of expressing views and opinions mostly by the young Macedonian intellectual community. I also don’t think that this law will contribute to the development of the culture of speech and communication typical for the internet community.’ says journalist and blogger Kiril Efremovski.

The Metamorphosis Foundation is also referring to the violation of the presumption of innocence with this draft-law. Namely, Article 11 of the draft-law on civil liability for insult and defamation stipulates that the online service provider shall not be liable for insult or defamation as a result of enabling access to offensive or defamatory information, provided that he himself proves that he was not aware of the offensive or defamatory material published on the portal, or if he proves that the author of the information published on the website has not acted under direct or indirect control or influence by the online service provider.

‘Given that every online service provider or website administrator has the technical capabilities to control all content (the form of control can ultimately be deletion or removal of the website from the internet) contrary to the principle of presumption of innocence, with this article the owners are put in a situation to have to prove their innocence, instead of the plaintiff to offer evidence for their guilt or malicious intent’ – said the representatives of Metamorphosis, Foundation for Internet and Society.

Bloggers also say that the draft-law on civil liability for insult and defamation, instead of creating a favorable climate for timely and accurate information, creates an opportunity for media blackout. ‘The Law is implemented not because the government (political, financial, journalistic, etc.). cannot punish those who criticize it, but because that process is too complicated and too slow. And why bother, when it can force the owners (authors) of blogs and the providers? This is the society we live in: everyone accused is guilty until proven otherwise. That is the difference with the ‘previous’ system in which your neighbor libeled you and the government punished you, and “today’s” system in which the government is the only one (who will be) able to libel you so that the neighbors (providers and blog owners) could punish you.’ says Goran Peoski.

It’s a fact that there should be regulation for the problem with insults and libels on the internet, but it seems that the one which is about to be adopted is regarded as far from ideal by the most active internet users.

‘The whole process of decriminalizing insult and defamation, and thus attempting to regulate civil liability in this area is problematic. It is obvious that the government wants to establish or cause even greater self-censorship among people who wish to publicly express their opinion, or whose profession is to inform the public. However, the government is being careful to present it as democratization in this domain and it has been successful in doing it so far, while the concerned seem to lack sufficient capacity to resist it.

According to CSO Civil, this process needs to be completely abandoned and a new one should be initiated, including more actors, especially ones that would be wise and courageous enough to do the work properly and in favor of the freedom of speech and with full respect for human rights and freedoms.’ said Dzabir Derala, blogger and president of Civil.

And while the angry Macedonian internet users are writing more and more articles on this issue, Skopjehacklab encourages the citizens to send their comments on the draft-law on civil liability for insult and defamation to the Assembly and to appeal during the second reading of the draft-law, for a complete blackout of the Macedonian cyberspace as a sign of protest.

“Join the action for a blackout of the Macedonian Internet by adding the simple script. The second reading of the draft-law is taking place October 9, 2012, so you can place the code on your website at 00:00h that day and leave it there for at least 24 hours’ is written on Skopjehacklab’s website.

Source: Think.mk „Законот за навреда и клевета – неприфатлив за македонската интернет заедница“

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