On the Measures against Gazeta po-kievski
Open Letter from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group
The newspaper Gazeta po-kievski is a wide circulation socio-political publication. Its staff have always carried out their duties to a high level, unfailingly adhering to journalist standards and gaining deserved loyalty from the broadest readership.
However since the beginning of February the financial and economic activities of Gazeta po-kievski and a number of sister publications have been blocked by their owner. People are not being paid and the bank is not making payments to partners. It is known that similar methods of management are regular practice of the entire Privat media group. What is more, the principle of collective responsibility is applied – one publication “offends” and all suffer pressure and a slow form of suffocation.
Since 11 March publication of Gazeta po-kievski has been stopped by the owner in the printing company which has the same owner. A popular, high-quality publication, or, more exactly, a group of publications and portals in the largest cities in Ukraine with an overall readership of 800 thousand people, one of the most notable phenomena on the printed press market in the entire period of Ukraine’s independence is being cynically and brutally destroyed by the management of the Privat Group.
In the Internet there is a lot of information regarding the reasons for this shameful attack on freedom of speech. On 21 February the newspaper published material about the preparation of President Yanukovych’s chat with the people. Several interest facts were given, for example, about 16 platforms where questions would be asked, located around the entire country. It was mentioned that this place in Kyiv would be a refuse-burning factory (as though there weren’t other problems in a capital robbed and denigrated by the so-called “young team” in power which Kyiv residents have not even been allowed to re-elect). The article apparently aroused irritation “at high level” which was expressed to the owner. After this the reprisals began.
Attempts are made to explain this as due to economic reasons. Yet the conflict over Gazeta po-kievski has no commercial basis. You do not destroy a publication which is one of the leaders on the printed press market, you don’t create the conditions for a collapse in its rating, loss of readers and advisers, or, in other words, you don’t destroy your own property.
This is also something more than conflict as an attempt to introduce political censorship. It is a conflict of values, conflict regarding the fundamental human right to ones profession, to personal dignity, human honour and the wish to crush this dignity, put people in their place, shut their mouths. The practice is being brought in of collective punishments, reprimands, depriving people of their pay. They are trying to instill the germ of hysterical fear before the master who is free to punish or spare his subjects. This is conflict where one of the parties is replacing responsibility with a lack of any limits, reinstating feudal practice and causing foul offence to people.
Not putting a stop to this greed and hypocrisy would mean placing the country beyond the limits of civilized European society. According to international law a country has positive duties to ensure freedom of expression, freedom of the press and its protection. The media is a social achievement and the public have the right to demand that the authorities protect their right to freedom and diverse information. In the given case the State is silently observing the flagrant violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and other international agreements to which Ukraine is a signatory. The shameful attack on Gazeta po-kievski is open provocation against Ukraine’s European aspirations, against its preparation for heading the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
We call on the newspaper’s owner, Mr Kolomiysky, to stop the destruction of the newspaper. We ask the Verkhovna Rada to take measures at a legislative level to defend media freedom from such actions by the owner. Justice must be restored and the kind of practice which degrades and shames the country should not reoccur in future.
Arkady Bushchenko, Head of the UHHRU Board
Volodymyr Yavorsky, Executive Director of UHHRU
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of KHPG