A declaration of pressmen from Lviv
The freedom of speech is endangered in our country today. Mass media, as a special institute extremely needed for the existence of democracy, stop to execute their duties before the people and before the country.
Newspapers, journals, radio and TV stations may not objectively elucidate the current events. They stop to be a free tribune for elucidating quite different attitudes; they stop to be the tribune without which it is senseless to dream of shaping well-balanced public opinion.
Our most acute problem is the unsatisfactory legislation. It does not contain elementary guarantees for the press to execute its duties. The law actually permits to infringe the press by unreasonable fines that result from groundless libel claims. That is why the court became the place where disobedient newsmen are punished and free newspapers are closed. The law does not guarantee equal rights of mass media. The law does not constrain the authorities rights to interfere into the professional life of newspapers and magazines.
Such a practice should be immediately stopped, and imperfect laws changed. We do not want to live in the country, where journalists have no right to think and no right to write what they think.
That is the reason why we cannot keep silence any more. We cannot observe without protest how, before the eyes of the disappointed public, one of the most fundamental elements of democracy — the freedom of speech — is being destroyed. That is why we began the action ‘The wave of freedom, which is based on the principles declared in the Declaration of principles of free journalists of Ukraine.
Our goal is simple and honest — to shape, by using all constitutionally admissible methods, such legislation in the country which will enable us to develop mass media which correspond to our advance to the open society.
What is the action of free newsmen?
The action of free newsmen (AFN) is a non-party ad hoc union. Its goal is the decision of urgent problems — the introduction of changes into the legislation, which will make impossible the pressure of power, courts and control organs on mass information. The AFN is not a movement of journalist functionaries, who try in this way to make their career in case of success. The action of free newsmen is an element, is an outburst. Nowadays we are separated by many reasons: the necessity to compete, distrust, pessimistic feeling of impotence. We must overcome all these reasons and we must support what is needed by all of us. Then we shall win.
A message to the public
What initiated the action ‘The wave of freedom? On 31 March one of the district courts of Lviv, acting on the hint from above, took one of the most absurd decisions in the history of claims against mass media in the independent Ukraine. For a publication of a short critical review (12 lines on the page ‘Culture) the court forced the newspaper ‘Express to pay on the libel case Hr 150,000. This case illustrates in the best way what is happening with the freedom of press in the post-Soviet Ukraine.
There is no doubt that this court decision was taken in order to put on the knees the most popular regional newspaper for its principal attitude. The decision was taken just when the counterposition between the newspaper and the local power reached its peak. The magazine was not even given the opportunity to defend: the case that rested in the drawer since 1997 was considered behind the closed doors.
The decision was taken by the head of the district court A. Goretskiy, who even does not possess the life-long judges status. In December 1999 the Supreme Rada of Ukraine, when it considered personal cases of judges, did not vote for this. Judge Goretskiy, being afraid for his position, became a mere tool in the hands of the authorities, who just decided to punish the newspaper. This decision filled the journalists with such indignation that they decided to begin the protest action on 13 April and started to build a barricade.
Why did journalists decide to build the Barricade in downtown Lviv?
The Barricade is a symbol of resistance. The Barricade is a boundary between the wide world of free journalists and narrow world of Ukrainian bureaucrats. The Barricade is a challenge to nomenclature, who again considers that the freedom of speech can be manipulated from their comfortable offices of from their Mercedeses. The Barricade is a start of the movement of free journalists who set before them the goal to change the existing order by any price.
What is our goal?
Our strategic goal is to introduce into the legislation of Ukraine the changes, which will make impossible the pressure on mass media by authorities, courts and controlling bodies. Our tactical task is to achieve the change of the decision in the case against the newspaper ‘Express.
What do we believe in?
We believe that in the nearest time barricades of solidarity in the framework of our action will appear throughout Ukraine.
We believe in support of the people of good will.
We believe that together we shall win.
On 13 April in 8:45 another action began in Lviv called ‘The wave of freedom by journalists. Journalists of various editions, which protest against the permanent infringements and interference on the side of the authorities, united and decided to declare their attitude to the problems of freedom of speech in Ukraine and to the democratic current power as a whole. Now this action is passing without excesses and with the powerful support of the population.
In the nearest several days the attention of the world and Ukrainian mass media will be attracted to our city, since the action was started in our city, during 5 – 10 days. 35 TV companies will report on the course of events. More than 30 FM stations will inform the listeners about the demands of ‘The wave of freedom.
Funeral of freedom
At 8:45 more than 50 journalists and mere supporters of the action ‘The wave of freedom gathered near the Franko district court of Lviv in the General Chuprinko street. Journalists organized the picket near the courthouse and passed to the court administration the letter, where they protested against the court decision concerning the newspaper ‘Express. It is interesting that on the previous day judge Goretskiy, who ruled out the verdict, went on leave.
The picket was accompanied by the symbolic action ‘Funeral of freedom. A funeral march sounded and the journalists lit candles and bent their heads to mark their condolence to the dead freedom in Ukraine and in Lviv. The main slogan of the picket was ‘Lie is a weapon of officials. Lviv citizens actively supported the journalists and called out with them various slogans in protection of the press.
A large group of militiamen observed the actions of the journalists with the great interest, but could not find a pretext to interfere.
Turning to the city administration
In 20 minutes after ‘Funeral of freedom an appeal of representatives of the action was read to the deputies of Lviv city council. In this address the facts of the infringement of the freedom of the press were described, as well as the demands of journalists and a request to support them. 50 deputies of the city council put their signatures under the appeal.
It is possible to rebel esthetically
The symbolic Barricade of freedom the participants of the action ‘The wave of freedom erected at night of 13 April. Next morning citizens and guests of Lviv assured themselves that journalists intend to seriously protect the freedom of the press.
The Barricade was constructed after the project of the well-known artist Vladimir Kaufman, who without hesitations supported the just demands of the free journalists.
‘A barricade is an eternal attribute of struggle, said Vladimir Kaufman. — ‘All freedoms were won on barricades, and, although the Barricade of journalists is somewhat symbolic, it has all the attributes of a real barricade. The skeleton of the Barricade became the constructive scaffold on which journalists hung slogans with their demands. Besides, there are usual elements of a barricade, such as bags of sand, fuel barrels, cable bobbins, etc. The Barricade made a great expression on the spectators — they stood for hours staring at Kaufmans creation.
March to the Barricade
Since the building of the Franko district court (as well as its functionaries) did not cause any positive emotions of the participants of ‘The wave of freedom, the participants of the action did not stay too long near this gloomy house. After finishing the picket the journalists went on the march along the downtown, where the Barricade had been already constructed near Taras Shevchenkos monument. This Barricade symbolized the line of counterposition of supporters of the democratic development of Ukrainian state with the reactionaries, who would like to govern the people and the country without leaving their comfortable offices and glamorous Mercedeses.
On their way from General Chuprinko Street to the Freedom avenue several hundreds of passersby joined the column of the participants of ‘The wave of freedom. Those, who joined the column, expressed their support of the free press. On the square near Shevchenkos monument the journalists and their supporters together declared the main principles of the ‘Wave of freedom: ‘Free world to free people and ‘We shall not permit to trample the free press. At the improvised meeting, which began near the Barricade, many well-known in Lviv figures gave their speeches: the poet Igor Kalinets, the researcher Roman Kys, the orchestra conductor Myron Yusypovich. Poet and diplomat Roman Lubkivsky approved the action over telephone.
Inhabitants and guests of the ‘Western capital of Ukraine get acquainted with the journalists demands and get leaflets in which the position of the participants of the action is described. Before the tables, where signatures in protection of the freedom of the press are taken, great queues are lined.
Tell us what you think
All the people of good will may join to our action. To keep mass media in the course of what is happening the press service of the action ‘The wave of freedom has been organized. It can be reached by telephone (0322) 64-64-58. We shall present all the information available, in particular, daily press releases on the course of the action.
Besides, everybody, who wants to support the independent journalists and say what he thinks about the freedom of speech in Ukraine, the hot line works daily. Call us by the number (0322) 97-07-64, and tell us what you think about our initiative.
If a newspaper does not write truth — the readers are devoid the right to know the truth.
We shall win only with your active assistance.
PL commentary. Good words, a nice well-organized action, rather a campaign. It seems that one may be happy that at last journalists fight for the freedom of speech. But I feel protest. It seems to me that such actions must be carried in the legal field, that one must observe a letter and spirit of legislation, even if it is imperfect. One may object: how one can obtain justice in the rightless state by rightful methods? Yes, this is difficult. Nonetheless, I do not see another way for asserting the rightful consciousness in the society. By the way, the Ukrainian legislation for this category of cases is rather complete, one must only to be able to use it. Yes, that is true that libel claims keep newspapers in check, limiting journalists in their freedom of self-expression. But do you know any other way to protect an individual from libel in mass media, especially if the libel is paid? There is a problem how large must the libel claims be. If they are too low, they will not protect the victims. The newspaper ‘Express blamed an author in plagiarism — within the notorious 12 lines. Is it not an insult? Yes, the libel claim of Hr 250,000 is too large and not justified. Maybe, the decision of the Franko district court is unjust. But is the pressure on the court in the form of pickets and hunger strikes better than the notorious telephone right? I cannot in principle support picketing courts, even if their decisions are unjust. We must not press on courts — we must breed in our society respect to courts. Only then court will become a really independent structure. The journalists of the newspaper ‘Express have a strong position for protecting their interests in cassation instances. The district court violated the law when it considered the case without defendants. If the cassation fails, the case may be directed to the Supreme Court and then to the International Court, since Articles 6 and 10 of the European Convention of protection of human rights and main freedoms were violated. But the journalists have chosen a loud and doubtful way of the direct pressure.
The freedom of speech really needs protection, but, in this concrete case, by other methods.