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08.04.2004

What were the conclusions of the Forum of journalists “Legal protection” that convoked the representatives of more than 170 Ukrainian regional mass media?

   

The first conclusion was that the pressure on mass media still exists in Ukraine, such as attacks on journalists, claims against mass media with the astronomic recompensing sums, refusals to render information, refusals in accreditation of independent mass media, supplanting of labor collectives from the lists of owners of mass media by the organs of state power and local self-rule, pressure on the owners, dumping the prices for the subscription and advertising on the side of state editions, pressure on the advertisers, etc.

The existence of the censorship at state TV was corroborated by the speech of journalist Igor Rutich, the ex-editor of the feature “Territoria bezpeki” prepared by the Ministry of Defense for the First National Channel. Rutich told about the shameful practice of issuing the features prepared by state agencies. Oleksandr Savenko, the head of the National TV company of Ukraine, also spoke about this practice. The style of these features, according to the words of Savenko, is wooden; moreover, they are permanently censored by the special officials from the interested agencies, not to mention the anonymous “temniks”.

Yet, here the author of the “temniks” is known: the Directorate of educational work of the Ministry of Defense. The journalist stated that on 6 May the speeches of MPs Viktor Yushchenko (“Nasha Ukraina”) and Georgiy Kriuchkov (CPU) were cut out from the feature about the military cooperation with the NATO after the order of the Ministry. The journalist informed about this fact only after he was fired. Yet, he affirms that such practice existed before and still exists. At that the Directorate of the Ministry of Defense has the right to summon journalists and to reprimand them.

However, the organizers of the Forum (the Institute of mass information, the Supreme Rada Committee in charge of the questions of the freedom of speech and information, the Public Council) did their best to create the opportunity not only for discussing the problems of mass media in the country, but also for obtaining the practical knowledge about the methods of protection. According to Maria Sambur, a lawyer of the IMI, the level of legal knowledge of journalists has essentially increased during recent two years. Yet, sometimes the journalists make compromises on the basis of the theses about the inefficiency and long duration of court proceedings for protecting the right for their professional activities.

Thus, the corporative education will become an important step towards the improvement of the existing situation. The organizers of the Forum plan to organize such educational actions regularly. The Forum must become a tradition, and the next sitting of the Forum will be held in September.

A special booklet “Legal self-protection of journalists” was prepared before the Forum. The booklet contains some practical recommendations: from the instructions how to compile a writ, petition or cassation appeal to the useful advices on the tactics of defense in court.

At the Forum the journalists had the opportunity to get the consultations of lawyers, to discuss the successful examples of self-protection. Alas, such experience had been rather bitter for everybody, who managed to complete the affair. The journalists say that such situation is caused not only by the absence of the sufficient legal knowledge, but also by the persistent neglect of operating laws by the officials and the absence of the corporative solidarity among journalists.

It is obvious that the time of strikes and protests has not passed yet for the regional press, this is the very beginning, and such activities are necessary. The efficiency of protests was demonstrated by Bukovina journalists. “Telekritika” already wrote about the picket organized by 200 journalists in May. The journalists, together with their families, came to the building of the oblast state administration to protest against the administrative methods of governor Teofil Bauer. This action has some positive results: Pavlo Kobevko, the editor of the Bukovina newspaper “Chas”, informed the Forum that the governor recalled his recent claims against mass media.

Yet, Ludmila Kucherenko, the head of the Poltava media club, pointed out that it would be impossible to gather 200 journalists to a protest action in the Poltava oblast. She said that the situation with the freedom of speech in the region was shameful. The Poltava governor dared to state publicly that the newspaper “Informatsiyny bulleten” would never have a chance to be printed inside the oblast. For four years the newspaper is printed semi-legally, and, according to the words of editor Tamara Prosianik, they had to commit a deliberate offence and did not named in the dateline the printing shop, which agreed to print the newspaper. Before this they had to find new printing shops almost every month: some shops refused to print the newspaper “because of the absence of technical facilities”, and sometimes (more often) the run was seized from the printing shops by law-enforcers. The number of the claims against this newspaper is incredible: sometimes three claims were considered during one week. The last claim was handed by an honored journalist of Ukraine, who demanded to recompense the moral damage inflicted to him and to refute the statement of Tetiana Prosianik, who said that earlier he had been a master of journalism, but his level essentially decreased now.

Yet, the positive results of the struggle for the right for the professional activities exist in this region too. For example, the independent journalists were not admitted to the session of the oblast council. Then the Poltava media club created the Public committee for the protection of the freedom of speech, and the oblast authorities were invited to the committee for the meetings with the press. The newspaper “Novy den”, which had been founded by the Poltava media club, also obtained the refusal from the printing shops “Kobeliaki” and “Poltava”. The motive was rather obvious: “the current situation does not allow to continue the cooperation”, read the telegram signed by the printing shop manager. Ludmila Kucherenko asserts that the pressure was exerted on the shop by the oblast directorate in charge of the press. The refusal to fulfill the contract on printing became the reason for bringing a suit to the economic court by the founders of the newspaper. The Kharkov appeal court obliged these enterprises to print the newspaper. Ludmila Kucherenko also handed the claim on the protection of honor, dignity and business reputation against the oblast directorate in charge of the press, which spread the information about the alleged commitment of three crimes by Kucherenko. Three years ago this information caused her dismissal, and now she demands to recompense the moral damage. The Poltava media club also achieved the signature of the contract with “Ukrposhta” (the main Ukrainian post service. – Translator’s note) about the distribution of the Kyiv newspaper “Svoboda” edited by Oleg Liashko.

Owing to the support of Mykhaylo Aksaniuk, the head of the Odessa independent trade union, and the IMI the newspaper “Veksel” (Yuzhny, the Odessa oblast) managed to win four trials: against the Odessa mayor, his deputy, the administrative department and the manager of a communal enterprise. After the proper publications and the visit of the IMI lawyer the mayor recalled his claim.

The Khmelnitska oblast newspaper “Fortetsia” was founded five years ago and was rather independent for some time. Now the pressure is exerted on the edition through its co-founders – a Kamianets-Podilskiy enterprise. Olga Zhmudovska, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, says that she understands now that the financial independence is a necessary condition of the political independence of an edition. However, how to solve the conflict between the editorial collective and the co-founders?

The existence at somebody’s expense is very convenient for our mass media that are rather poor. Yet, as Oleg Liashko, the editor of the newspaper “Svoboda”, correctly remarked, would the journalists (for example of the channel “NBM”) be able to present the investigation of the question whether Petro Poroshenko actually “earned money for the election by washing the income taxes in Trans- Dniestr region”? “The words “oppositional” and “independent” are not synonymous”, remarked the editor-in-chief of “Svoboda”. A journalist must be independent of the power, opposition and financial groups.

The greatest number of questions appears in the connection with the relations of the press and court power.

There was an unprecedented incident in the Ukrainian court practice: the decision issued by judge Matviyshina of the Leninskiy district court of Lugansk about the seizure of property and ten subsequent issues of the newspaper “Rakurs plus” for securing the 100-thousand claim of Vladimir Medianik, a deputy of the town council. This incident occurred in past September. The most interesting peculiarity of the decision was that the judge passed the seized property for storage... to the plaintiff. The reason of the claim was the publication on 21 August 2002 in the newspaper “Rakurs plus” of the letter of parents’ committee of one of Lugansk schools. The parents wrote that they had turned to deputy Vladimir Medianik asking for help, but got no response. The businessman’s claim on the protection of honor and dignity has not been considered yet, but the decision of the judge was cancelled. Yet, it appeared to be impossible to return the property to the edition. The seizure of ten issues of the newspaper resulted in the termination of its existence. The editors merely registered the new edition “Novy Rakurs”. In fact, it is the third attempt to realize the right for the professional activities, since Mykola Severin, the editor-in-chief of “Novy Rakurs”, started his work in the newspaper “Rakurs”. The IMI lawyer Maria Sambur reckons that the registration of new editions is not the best way out. In this case the journalists had to struggle till the last gun was fired, since they could win this case.

According to the information given by Tetiana Chornomaz, a correspondent of the radio “Liberty” in the Cherkassy oblast, in the case after the claim of MP Petro Kuzmenko (SDPU(u)) against the Uman newspaper “Ulyk”, the judge forced the defendants to agree to pay to the claimant at least 3 thousand hryvnas, instead of 10 thousand that were demanded as the compensation. The chairman of the court told that he was dependent on the plaintiff, who was an MP.

Yaroslav Tkachivskiy, the editor of the Ivano-Frankivsk weekly “Tyzhnevyk Galytchyny”, waits for the consideration of the cassation complaint in the Supreme Court for eight months. The statistics evidences that the claims against mass media are considered quickly, and the consideration of journalists’ claims  (against the organs of state power of other organs) lasts for months. So, it is no wonder that judge of the Supreme Court of Ukraine Ivan Dombrovskiy spoke very much about the necessity of creating the conditions for the independent justice.

The attacks on journalists are not investigated properly. Crimean journalist Oleksiy Ermolin (the newspaper “Krymskie novosti”) informed that an attack was committed on him on 11 April in Simferopol. Before this he had been conducting the investigation of the conflict between the inhabitants of Gurzuf and the manager of the recreation camp “Artek”. The latter warned the journalist: “Be careful, when you will write about this”. Oleksiy believes that the attack was somewhat connected with this warning. Yet, the law-enforcers, who investigate the case, are persistently ignoring this version.

The investigation of the attack on Oleksandr Pomoynitskiy, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Dilovy Pereyaslav”, committed on 26 May, is also ineffectual. The journalist still stays in a hospital with the cerebral brain concussion, closed cranial trauma and other grave injuries. Yesterday we learned about the attack on Dnepropetrovsk journalist Volodymir Belov. He got 15 knife wounds. The main version of militia is that the attack was caused by some everyday reasons, “Interfax-Ukraina” communicates.

It seems that in the cases of the attacks at journalists the version about the attack because of the professional activities must be considered first of all. This idea was discussed at the Forum along with other ones.

An interesting initiative was presented by Efim Marmer, the editor of the Kirovograd edition “Ukraina-tsentr”. He proposed to create the expert council for the surveillance over the consideration of cassation complaints in the Supreme Court of Ukraine.

By the way, Mykola Tomenko, the head of the Supreme Rada Committee in charge of the freedom of speech and information, insisted on the conduction of the special Plenum of the Supreme Court on the questions of the application of the laws on information. The comments of the Supreme Court about the application of the European Convention on the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms and the practices of the European Court of human rights are especially important.

Efim Marmer proposed one more form: signing the Memorandum between mass media and the head of the oblast council (oblast state administration) on the basic principles of the co-existence of the media and power. The European standards of the cooperation must be reflected in the Memorandum. The discussion on the problems of the cooperation is going on, and “Telekritika” invites everybody to take part in the discussion.

The stories about the problems of the regional journalists were very sad. Yet, the journalists unanimously confirmed the necessity of permanent contacts, exchange of experience and problems.

The elaboration of the joint strategy of struggle against any pressure on journalists or mass media is the main task today.

12 June 2003, Oksana Lysenko, the independent media trade union,
http://www.profspilka.org.ua  

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