A conclusion of Human Rights Watch: directives of Presidents Administration is a concealed form of censorship.
A conclusion of Human Rights Watch: directives of Presidents Administration is a concealed form of censorship
On the eve of the annual (2003) sitting of the Council of the Cooperation of the European Union and Ukraine the organization „Human Rights Watch“ prepared the Report „Struggle around news: The unofficial state censorship at the Ukrainian TV“. In this report the influence of the secret instructive memorandums upon the mass media activities in Ukraine is confirmed. The sitting in Brussels is one of the most important annual meetings between Ukraine and Europe, and the fact that Human Rights Watch timed its 48th investigation of the political censorship in Ukraine to this event evidences that the world community regards censorship to be extremely dangerous for the Ukrainian democracy.
Elisabeth Andersen, the executive manager of the European and Central Asian department of Human Rights Watch, basing on the analysis conducted by this organization, draws the conclusion that millions of TV watchers in Ukraine have no opportunity to obtain the important information on the political, economic and social events. „Directives of Presidents Administration is a concealed form of censorship“, stated Ms. Andersen, „The Administration of the Ukrainian President openly violates the freedom of speech by issuing the detailed instructions how the TV channels must elucidate the events“.
In what follows we present an excerpt from the Report. The full text of the Report can be found on the site http://docs.hrw.org/embargo/ukraine0303; users name: „hrwreports“, access code: „pub2k2“.
UKRAINE: UNOFFICIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP
The Administration of the Ukrainian President openly violates the freedom of speech issuing the instructions stipulating which TV channels may elucidate news, stated the Human Rights Watch. The examples of such directives are given in the report. The 48-pages Report „Struggle around news: The unofficial state censorship at the Ukrainian TV“ confirms the influence of the secret instructive memorandums upon the mass media activities in Ukraine. The memorandums compiled by Presidents Administration are distributed among the managers and editors of national TV companies and contain the recommendations which topics must be elucidated and in which form. The disobedience results in a wide spectrum of unofficial sanctions, including tax inspections, abolition of licenses, libel claims, dismissals, demotions and decrease of salaries.
The coercive influence of the memorandums on the presentation of news in Ukraine is extremely powerful. The pro-president moods are prevalent in the TV-news features, which are the most popular information source in Ukraine. The activities and opinions of other political figures are distorted or merely ignored. This situation was pronouncedly illustrated with the messages on the opposition demonstrations on 16 September 2002, when the TV channels transmitted absolutely similar video records and comments, from which it was very difficult to understand who were the organizers of the demonstrations and what were their demands.
The threat of the juridical and administrative consequences of the disobedience forces the editors and journalists to fulfill the orders of Presidents Administration. Even before the appearance of the memorandums, the mass media that supported the opposition parties of did not obey the official demands, underwent the summons to courts, administrative checks and abolition of licenses. The journalists were dismissed or demoted, their salaries were decreased and so on. Some journalists left their jobs as a protest against the growing censorship, and many others continue to work under the unbearable conditions, practicing self-censorship or presenting the unbiased information on their own risk.
„After the Soviet censorship stopped to exist, a certain level of pluralism in mass media has appeared“, Ms. Andersen said, „Yet, the really independent mass media are very rare“.
The economic instability made the majority of mass media to accept the financial aid and patronage of the influential industrial circles, which formed various political parties and purchased radio and TV companies. Media magnates frequently use their informational property as a mouthpiece of personal or group interests and opinions. Financial and political groups closely connected with President Kuchma control now six all-Ukrainian TV channels. This fact, together with the appearance of the memorandums, is undermining the mass media pluralism more and more.
The unofficial censorship and economic dependence are not the only threats to the independence of mass media in Ukraine. The „disappearance“ and murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze in September 2002 excited the wave of protests both inside the country and abroad. The case of Gongadze and other similar cases are still not closed. Kuchma and other top authorities are suspected of the participation in the murder of Gongadze. This suspicion is based on the audio record of the talk, in which the President allegedly ordered the security service officers to „solve the problem with Gongadze“. Taking into account the dangerous situation with Ukrainian mass media, Human Rights Watch appealed to the Ukrainian authorities with the propositions:
– to stop immediately the distribution of the memorandums or other forms of coercive written or oral instructions given by Presidents administration to mass media;
– to guarantee that the censorship in any form on the side of state power or private persons will be liquidated by means of operating laws and obligations that forbid the censorship;
– to conduct the immediate and thorough investigation of the activities of state officials and other persons involved in the censorship or other misuses against the representatives of mass media, and to bring the guilty to the responsibility;
– to consider the opportunity of adopting the laws, which would guarantee the realistic minimal salary for journalists, to introduce the regulating structure for guaranteeing the juridical protection of journalists, who underwent the punishments such as decrease of salaries, demotions or dismissals.
The organization Human Rights Watch appealed to the European Union to give the top priority to the freedom of the press in the relations with Ukraine and to demand to provide the proofs of the improvements in the sphere of human rights in Ukraine as a part of her international obligations. Human Rights Watch also turned to the international community with the request to support the freedom of the press in Ukraine, recommending to such international organization as the Council of Europe and the OSCE to continue to render their aid to the Ukrainian government and their control over the freedom of speech in Ukraine.
18 March 2003