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Freedom of Speech Objection to Fake News Criminalization Push

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The proposed fake news criminalization amendment has sparked concerns among stakeholders like the Union of Cyprus Journalists, warning of potential threats to free speech and journalistic freedom. If passed, the amendment could lead to press violations, increased self-censorship, and compromise democratic processes, according to the Association of Newspapers and Periodicals Publishers.

What are the concerns regarding the proposed fake news criminalization amendment?

The proposed fake news criminalization amendment to the House plenary has raised concerns about potential threats to free speech and journalistic freedom. Stakeholders like the Union of Cyprus Journalists and the Association of Newspapers and Periodicals Publishers argue it could lead to press violations, increase self-censorship, and compromise democratic processes.

The Amendment’s Journey to the House Plenary

An amendment with far-reaching implications for free speech and journalism is on its way to the House plenary. Slated for review in September, this legislative change aims to redefine specific online behaviors—currently civil offences—as criminal acts. These behaviours include the spread of fake news, threats, insults, and the sharing of obscene images. If passed, this amendment would introduce a punitive element to these offences—a jail sentence of up to five years.

The conversation around this legislative shift took a spotlight on Wednesday at a House legal committee discussion. Key figures, such as deputy attorney general Savvas Angelides and committee chairman Nicos Tornaritis, voiced strong support for the amendment. Angelides highlighted the damage done to families and young people by fake news, noting the urgent need to address such criminal activities. He remarked that a staggering 90 percent of complaints to the Law Office were youth-related, involving threats and blackmail.

Stakeholders Stand Divided

Despite the support from some officials, the proposed amendment has been met with critique and concern from various stakeholders in the journalistic community. The Union of Cyprus Journalists (UCJ) and the Association of Newspapers and Periodicals Publishers have expressed their opposition, flagging the amendment as a potential threat to journalistic freedom.

During the deliberations, representatives from the media industry did not hold back their criticisms. Elias Stephanou from the Cyprus Bar Association raised the alarm over the potential erosion of journalistic privacy. He suggested that journalists should only be investigated under direct orders from the attorney general, to maintain a level of protection for journalistic work.

Eleni Mavrou, speaking for the Association of Newspapers and Periodicals Publishers, warned against what she perceived as the back-door criminalization of reporting. She argued that such an amendment could lead to press violations and a chilling effect on democratic processes. Mavrou emphasized that the risk of criminal probes by those intolerant of criticism could result in self-censorship and a preference for online anonymity among journalists.

Legislative Process and Calls for Unity

As the amendment moves closer to its moment of truth in the plenary, Tornaritis reiterated his intention to forward the proposal to the legal committee by the end of September. In the interim, the justice ministry and other concerned parties have been encouraged to present a unified stance.

Emphasizing the urgency of the amendment, Tornaritis called upon journalists to delve deeper into investigative journalism, particularly when it comes to political affairs. He presented the amendment as a key step in protecting public interest. Meanwhile, Akel MP Andreas Pasiourtides characterized the amendment as a veiled attempt to criminalize defamation and libel, maintaining that civil discourse is still possible without it.

UCJ president George Frangos voiced the union’s fears, suggesting that the amendment, if passed, could constrict freedoms of expression and the press—fundamental pillars of any democratic society.

The Perspective of a Seasoned Journalist

Amidst the debate on this controversial amendment, the perspective of experienced journalists like Rebekah is particularly notable. With over three decades in the media industry and a background that spans multiple cities, her insights are woven from a rich tapestry of life experiences. Rebekah has traversed the globe, engaged with diverse cultures, and her dedication to journalism is as indelible as the tattoos that adorn her. Her passion for storytelling is matched by her love for poetry, showcasing a depth of character that underscores the importance of protecting the freedoms that enable such diverse voices to thrive.

What are the concerns regarding the proposed fake news criminalization amendment?

The proposed fake news criminalization amendment has raised concerns about potential threats to free speech and journalistic freedom. Stakeholders like the Union of Cyprus Journalists and the Association of Newspapers and Periodicals Publishers argue it could lead to press violations, increase self-censorship, and compromise democratic processes.

What are some key details about the amendment’s journey to the House Plenary?

The proposed amendment aims to redefine specific online behaviors as criminal acts, including the spread of fake news, threats, insults, and the sharing of obscene images. If passed, this legislative change could introduce jail sentences of up to five years for offenders. The amendment is set for review in September and has garnered both support and critique from various stakeholders.

How have stakeholders in the journalistic community responded to the proposed amendment?

While some officials have expressed support for the proposed amendment, stakeholders like the Union of Cyprus Journalists and the Association of Newspapers and Periodicals Publishers have raised concerns about potential threats to journalistic freedom. Criticisms include worries about erosion of journalistic privacy, press violations, and a chilling effect on democratic processes.

What calls for action and unity have been made as the legislative process progresses?

As the proposed amendment moves closer to review in the House plenary, calls for unity among the justice ministry and concerned parties have been emphasized. Some officials have urged deeper investigative journalism, while others have highlighted the importance of protecting public interest. However, voices like the Union of Cyprus Journalists have expressed fears that the amendment, if passed, could restrict freedoms of expression and the press in a democratic society.

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