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France25 November 2003

OSCE and Reporters Without Borders call for defamation to be decriminalized

Reporters Without Borders and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s representative for media freedom, Freimut Duve, reiterated calls for the decriminalization of defamation in OSCE-member countries today at the end of a two-day round-table on the issue which they jointly organised in Paris.

"It is urgent that we ensure that defamation is no longer used to gag the news media," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "We must decriminalize defamation so that no journalist is ever given a prison sentence again, and we must completely eliminate the insult laws that protect public officials. These are laws from another age, unworthy of a modern democracy."

The work of the news media has been obstructed for years by the existence of harsh defamation and insult laws in many OSCE and European Union member countries that put pressure on journalists, especially when they call public officials into question.

Participants in the round-table, who included experts, lawyers and journalists who have been prosecuted for defamation, adopted recommendations on the way to proceed with the decriminalization of defamation and the repeal of insult laws, which overly protect government officials.

"Such laws often push journalists to censor themselves and encourage them to refrain from investigating corruption cases for fear of being prosecuted for defamation," OSCE representative Duve said. "Defamation is also crime in western countries and the argument that is rarely applied is unacceptable."

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