THE existence and use of criminal defamation laws alongside a set of laws aimed at offering greater protection to Heads of State represent a threat to critical independent journalism, says the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
In a statement on the release of its study titled Defamation and Insult Laws in the OSCE Region, representative on the Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović said the study showed that criminal law remained an instrument to excessively limit media freedom.
“The existence and use of criminal defamation laws – alongside a set of laws aimed at offering greater protection to heads of state, public officials and state symbols – represent a threat to critical independent journalism and hinder the scrutiny of those in power, which is the legitimate and democratic function of journalism,” Mijatović said.
She used the occasion to call on authorities of OSCE participating states to ensure that criminal laws did not stand in the way of free and pluralistic media.
“Pursuing decriminalisation of defamation has been the standing policy of this institution as well as other international and regional human rights bodies in Europe,” said Mijatović.
The study, which was conducted by International Press Institute (IPI) director of Press Freedom Programmes Scott Griffen and IPI executive director Barbara Trionfi, examines the existence of criminal defamation and insult laws in the territory of the 57 OSCE participating states.
It offers a broad, comparative overview of the compliance of participating states’ legislation with international standards and best practices in the field of defamation law and freedom of expression.
Trionfi said the report was intended to point out the broad impact such laws could have.