Interview with the editor-in-chief of the weekly “Ukraina-Tsentr” Efim Marmer about the situation with the freedom of speech in Ukraine


The weekly “Ukraina-Tsentr” has the status of an all-Ukrainian edition, although it is published in Kirovograd and distributed mainly in the Central Ukraine. At the end of this year “UT” will celebrate its tenth anniversary. Reprints from “UT” and refers to it regularly appear on various political and informational sites, and not only on the Ukrainian ones. Editor-in-chief of the weekly Efim Marmer became a rather well-known figure after the Parliament hearings on the freedom of speech in Ukraine.

His speech devoted to the problem of court persecutions of regional mass media was, in the opinion of the majority of his colleagues, one of the most acute moments of the discussion. Andrey Lubenskiy, a correspondent of “Pravda.Ru” put several questions to Efim Marmer.

-  Efim, you are a public consultant of the Parliamentary committee in charge of the questions of freedom of speech and information. So, let us begin from the “professional” questions. How do you estimate the situation with the freedom of speech in Ukraine?

-  It is absolutely adequate to the economic, social and cultural situation, which formed in Ukraine during the past 10 years. I categorically disagree with my colleagues, who try to represent the freedom of speech as the main problem of the modern Ukraine. Look, the place of Ukraine in the ratings by income per one inhabitant and other financial-economic indexes absolutely coincide with the place of the country in the lists of human rights protecting organizations. It should be naive to hope that the level of the freedom of speech in the country, where the clannish-oligarchic methods are used both in governing the country and in business and where the corruption became the norm of life, will agree with the European Charter of human rights.

-  Recently Leonid Kuchma got into the international list of “enemies of the press” again. Is it justly?

-  A man, who pretends to the role of the arbiter of the nation, must be responsible for the situation in his country not only before his people, but also before the international community. He must be responsible for his own errors and the neglect of the fourth power, as well as for the errors of his circle.

-  It is known that the General Prosecutor’s office of Ukraine started the criminal case against five provincial newspapers, which, by their publications, allegedly impeded Leonid Kuchma to fulfill his service duties. The President ordered to close the case, but, as far as we know, interrogations of the journalists are still conducted in spite of the obvious absurdity of the accusation. Some people reckon that the President was put in a spot by his circle, other ones – that he is the guilty. What do you think about this strange story?

-  I see nothing strange in this story: this is the modern PR in the Soviet interpretation. The problem lies not in the attempt of restricting the freedom of speech, but in the absence of elementary political culture and proper level of discussion. If the President at a press conference calls his opponents scumbags, this does not mean that everybody – journalists and politicians – must sink to the same level. Culture is a personal affair. This is true in journalism too.

-  The story with the rewarding of Vladimir Mostovoy, the editor-in-chief of the weekly “Zerkalo nedeli”, with the German premium “For freedom and future of mass media” is also interesting. Suddenly the President became interested in the reasons of the rewarding and ordered to the Ministry of Interior, USS and General Prosecutor’s office to take the appropriate steps for investigating the facts of the intimidations and persecutions of the “hero of the occasion”. And Vladimir Mostovoy said: “The problems that “Zerkalo nedeli” face are not very different from the problems, which independent mass media must solve in their everyday work: attacks on the investors, attempts to replace the owners, phone threats, ungrounded compensation sums, illegal institution of criminal cases – this is not the complete list of the methods applied to the disobedient editions”. How do you estimate the situation?

-  Let us, so to say, separate the problems. The fact that Germans rewarded Mostovoy is normal. Whom else they had to reward? The merits of Mostovoy are indisputable, and these people never went further than Kyiv.

The “concern for people” realized by the President, which was, I am sure, invented by Sergey Vasilyev (the head of the informational directorate of President’s Administration. – Editor’s note) and his clique, is merely ridiculous. So, if the law-enforcers would not find the “offenders” of Mostovoy, he would have to return the premium? And the authority of the German protectors of the freedom of speech would be ruined forever? It seems that the authorities still cannot understand that the relations of the press and the power is not a box and even not a chess game.

As to the reaction of V. Mostovoy, the form of the answer demonstrates clearly who is the intellectual elite in our country, and the essence of the answer absolutely correctly demonstrates the situation in the media space of Ukraine. During the ten years of the existence of “Ukraina-Tsentr” we omitted not a single item from “Mostovoy’s list”; in some cases the situations were very serious, and sometimes the problems were solved rather peacefully.

-  You are heading a provincial weekly. What can you say about the present situation with the regional press?

-  The situation is similar with one of the provincial business. There are some successful editions, some editions controlled by the power, and editions that are completely financed by somebody.

The district communal editions are dying. State-owned editions live owing to subsidies, they have permanent problems with “Ukrpochta” (the state post company. – Translator’s note): the services of this company are very expensive, and the level of writing off is stably high (practically independently of runs), which raises doubts in the naturalness of the situation. The development of the own distribution network is unprofitable because of high taxes and the enormous number of other payments. All this happens on the background of the total decrease of the interest to the printed word…

-  How often you, as an editor and a journalist, came across the facts of censorship?

-  The displays of censorship, as well as, for instance, corruption, are various. Thus, it should be senseless to try to measure or to estimate (often-rare, much-little) the censorship. Yet, censorship exists, it must exist in our society. But the matter is not in the frequency and efficiency of the pressure on editors (journalists), but in the presence or absence of moral principles, in the weakness or solidity of your spine.

-  The most difficult problem for me in the recent years was the ruinous claims against “Ukraina-Tsentr”. The maniacal aversion to any “non-sanctioned” mention of the names of ambitious officials or politicians frequently results in the absolutely inadequate consequences. We felt all “merits” of our local justice on our own experience during the consideration of the last suit brought against us by the head of the local court, who had been an unsuccessful candidate at the election-2002. The corporative unity of our court power is striking – journalists may only be envious of it. I am astonished with the easiness, with which the “victims” evaluate their “moral sufferings”. In the case of “UT” the initial sum was 500 thousand hryvnas. At the same time, the district court headed by our opponent considered the scores of cases, when the compensation sums paid to the families of the perished (in road accidents, at plants, as a result of robberies) were equal to 2-3 thousand hryvnas. Yet, when the affair concerns mass media and “moral sufferings” of the influential persons, the tariffs increase sweepingly. It is obvious that the purpose of such claims is to destroy the newspaper.

Now the cassation of “UT” is in the Supreme Court, and we hope that the judges of the Court will be able to disregard the high post of our opponent.

I do not want to finish out dialog about the freedom of speech with the answers to the traditional questions: “Who is guilty?” and “What must we do?” Every honest and competent journalist knows these answers. So, let us solve the problems jointly in the order of their appearance.

Andrey Lubenskiy, «PRAVDA.Ru»

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