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15.12.2003 | Nikolay Kozyrev, Lugansk

Independent mass media are persecuted in the Lugansk oblast

   

This year the Lugansk public committee for human rights protection conducts the investigation of the level of freedom of local newspapers. The investigation is conducted in the framework of the project “Consulting and informing peasants through district newspapers” and is financially supported by National Endowment for Democracy and Foundation of the development of Ukrainian mass media at the USA Embassy, Kyiv.

We have already disclosed some problems, the existence of which may be interpreted as the almost complete dependence of district newspapers on local power organs.

This dependence has the political and economic character: after the election-2002 the systematic process of replacing the owners of the newspapers began in the oblast. Before this the newspapers were founded, as a rule, by journalists (journalists’ collectives) or editorial collectives and district councils. This year (in fact, the process began in autumn of the last year), according to the decision of the local councils, the journalists’ collectives were removed from the composition of founders of eight out of seventeendistrict newspapers. In four of these newspapers the place of journalists was occupied by state administrations:





Newspaper


District

Founder



1


“Slavianoserbskie Visti”


Slavianoserbskiy


District council


2


“Visti Bilovodshchiny”


Belovodskiy


District council


3


“Slovo khliboroba”


Melovskoy


District council


4


“Radianske slovo”


Markovskiy


District council


5


“Peremoga”


Novopskovskiy

District council and administration



6


“Vestnik Novoaydarshchiny”


Novoaydarskiy

District council and administration



7


“Popasnianskiy vestnik ”


Popasnianskiy

District council and administration



8


“Trudovaya slava”


Lutuginskiy

District council and administration



Most probably this tendency will result in the complete estrangement of journalists from the ownership of newspapers and absolute economic dependence of journalists’ collectives on district administration.

During the monitoring of local newspapers it appeared that the majority of the newspapers work not for readers, but for administration: they contain the information pleasant for the authorities, but almost do not write about the urgent problems of the districts, such as the violations of property rights in the course the agrarian reform. This is the reason of scanty runs: 3-5 thousands.

The committee concluded the agreements with the editors of two district newspapers (“Antratsitovskiy vestnik” and “Vestnik Novoaydarshchiny”) about the creation of the consulting centers at the editorial boards. The editors were summoned to the administration. They got the “recommendations” not to cooperate with the committee, since this project was allegedly financed by the political opposition (!). The representatives of Novoaydarskiy district administration insistently inquired me about my political orientation, they asked “for whom I had been working” during the previous election campaign, and who financed the committee now.

The reason of this situation is trivial: numerous violations of the rights, especially in the property sphere, must not, in the interests of the corrupted bureaucrats, be elucidated by the newspapers and discussed by public.

Under such conditions of censorship (or self-censorship) and the absence of freedom the protest reactions are inevitable, either in the form of delitescent conflict or in the open form. For example, for more than a year one of the courts considers the claim of V. Poydin, the editor of the Novopskovsk newspaper “Peremoga” against the district administration in the connection with the illegal persecutions after the publication of an article criticizing the district authorities for corruption.

There is another aspect of the dependence of mass media and violation of journalists’ rights – claims about the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation (Article 7 of the Civil Code of Ukraine), which often ruin the newspapers because of the enormous recompensing sums.

Some statistics. In 2002 there were 269 claims on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation in the oblast courts, 203 of them were handed in 2002. During that year 188 cases were considered, among them 31 were rejected, 56 were closed (i.e. the demands were not satisfied); the decisions were issued on 92 claims, 69 of them were satisfied. The greatest number of such cases was considered in the Leninskiy and Zhovtnevy courts of Lugansk and in the Stakhanov town court.

The total sum of moral and material compensations demanded in the claims was 2,089,077 hryvnas, and 42,514 hryvnas must be paid according to the court decisions.

49 claims on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation were brought against mass media, 31 of them were handed in 2002. 35 cases were considered during the year, 12 were rejected, 6 were closed; the decisions were issued on 17 claims, 14 were satisfied. Leninskiy district court of Lugansk considered 25 cases, Brianka town court – 7 cases, Krasnodon town court – 7 cases, Zhovtnevy district court of Lugansk – 6 cases, Stakhanov town court – 2 cases, Lutuginskiy district court – 1 case and Popasninaskiy district court – 1 case.

The total demanded recompensing sum was 1, 627,704 UAH the court obliged the defendants to pay 4039 UAH. Thus, the total sum that must be paid according to the decisions of Leninskiy district court of Lugansk equals to 1717 hryvnas out of the total demanded sum of 530500 hryvnas; the corresponding numbers for other courts are: Brianka town court --- 471 out of 7000, Krasnodon town court – 630 out of 80000, Lutuginskiy district court – 1017 out of 10000, Stakhanov town court – 204 out of 204.

So, the oblast mass media permanently stay in the field of social tension generated by the conflict of interests, more often the interests of bureaucrats and citizens, who try to defend their legal rights and interests through publications on the newspapers. Yet, sometimes the citizens together with the newspapers, become the victims of the illegal court repressions.

The above statement may be confirmed by the scandalous case Medianik vs. Lugansk newspaper “Rakurs plus”, when Medianik, a businessman and a deputy of the town council, demanded to recompense the moral damage (100 thousand hryvnas) inflicted to him by the publication in the newspaper of the voters’ critical opinions about his work (!). And the court ruined the newspaper even before the consideration of the case – it issued the decision about the arrest of all future issues of the newspaper!

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