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08.04.2004

The problem of liquidation of state mass media

   

The complete liquidation of state mass media in Ukraine can result only in the destruction of informational systems and informational sovereignty of Ukraine, believes Ivan Chizh, the head of the State committee on TV and radio broadcasting. In his speech delivered at the sitting of a “round table” in Khmelnitskiy, he pointed out that the proportion of state mass media in the informational space of Ukraine was insignificant, so it was inexpedient to change their form of property.

Now only 3% of electronic mass media and 3% of central newspapers are owned by the state, said Ivan Chizh. Therefore, in his opinion, there is no need to attack and destroy the small informational islets owned by the state and regional communities.

Ivan Chizh, the head of the State committee on TV and radio broadcasting of Ukraine:

-- Today it is very simple to destroy a district or town newspaper. Yet, it is much more difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to restore the local informational flow. So, it is necessary to strengthen the support of the editions by their founders, contacts between newspapers and readers, thus upholding the editions. The newspapers must be interesting, dynamic, reflecting the real problems.

(“Telekritika”, 6 August 2003)

***

The open letter by Igor Lubchenko, the head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine,
to the members of the Union, all workers of mass media,
to everybody concerned about the freedom of speech

Respected colleagues, all admirers of printed and outspoken word!

This summer we have observed the open confrontation of some state officials and the President of Ukraine. The head of the state twice, in June 2000 and March 2002, promised (at his meetings with journalists of regional mass media) to endorse the idea of liquidating the state mass media. He said that separate editions should not be financed from state budget.

In spite of that, the administration of the State committee of TV and radio broadcasting, under the aegis of public organizations headed by the officials from this structure (what a nonsense – a state official and, at the same time, the president of a public organization!), organizes round tables in the regions, the participants of which protest against the idea of liquidating the state mass media and approve the corresponding appeals to the Supreme Rada.

The organizers of these round tables resort to the banal demagogy, persuading their auditory that, allegedly, the press is not owned by the state already. According to their words, only 3% of printed mass media exist now, which were founded by the power structures.

This proportion was calculated by the officials of the State committee on the basis of the number of the editions, which had been registered since 1994 – about 17 thousand. And the real situation is the following: this summer the subscription was carried out for 2528 all-Ukrainian and 1938 local newspapers and magazines. Let us ignore the light reading and specialized editions (for gardeners, housewives, fishers, hunters, etc.). Then we will see that the number of socially-political editions (and the state and communal mass media are just such) is much less. So, this proportion is much more then the above-mentioned 3%. Yet, who needs this arithmetic? Maybe the officials of the State committee of TV and radio broadcasting seriously believe that the editions, which were founded not by the state, work against Ukraine? If such facts exist, and the officials observe these facts indifferently without turning to court with the demand to close the mass media, then these officials are committing crime and may not occupy their posts.

However, there are no such facts! Both Lviv newspaper “Vysoky zamok” and Donetsk newspaper “Donbas”, as well as the all-Ukrainian newspapers “Den”, “Dzerkalo tyzhnia”, “Kievskie vedomosti”, “Komunist”, “Molod Ukrainy”, “Narodna spravedlivist”, “Silski visti”, “Tovarishch”, “Ukraina moloda”, “Fakty i kommentarii” and hundreds of other editions create the polyphonic informational space of the state, help to build the democratic state after the European standards.

The main reason of the categorical statement of Mr. Chizh is not the anxiety about the future of mass media, but the wish to control the state and communal mass media, to dictate them the topics of their publications. When, in 2002, Leonid Kuchma introduced I. Chizh to the members of the collegium and the then State committee of informational policy, Mr. Chizh assured that he, being a representative of the opposition, would do his best for the development of the freedom of speech in Ukrainian mass media. Now “oppositionist” Chizh fights for the subjection of journalists to the power. God save us from such opposition!

The State committee of TV and radio broadcasting never tried to protect journalists from the pressure exerted by authorities, to stop the process of excluding the journalistic collectives from the ranks of founders of newspapers and of firing the editors opposed to local authorities, to guarantee the fulfillment of the agreements completed between the co-founders.

It is impossible to finance the state mass media now, when the state owes to its citizens many billions hryvnas of salaries and pensions. The state must face the truth and help the collectives of these editions to earn money for themselves. Otherwise, the collectives of the liquidated mass media will lose their work and will be thrown into the street.

There exist no state or communal mass media in democratic countries. Moreover, they also do not exist already in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Georgia.

The liquidation of mass media, founded, completely or partly, by power structures, is extremely urgent now. By the way, that is one of the demands of the Council of Europe for the integration of Ukraine to the European community.

The Ukrainian association of the publishers of periodicals handed to the Parliamentary committee the draft of the Law of Ukraine on the liquidation of state printed mass media. This draft was developed with the assistance of foreign investors. The main essence of the draft is that the power structures should leave the composition of the co-founders of mass media, and the property of editorial boards should be sold by auction (the editorial collectives have the right to purchase this property for 50% of its price).

The National union of journalists cannot agree with this principle. In our opinion, the buildings of the editorial boards and their printing shops were built for the money earned by the newspapers, which had been founded by trade unions, party, komsomol and other Soviet organs. So, we are sure: before the liquidation of state mass media, this property must be handed over to the collectives of the editions. And the editorial boards of the mass media, which were created by the organs of representative or executive power after the declaration of independence of Ukraine and occupy the buildings built not at the expense of the editorial boards, must have the right to purchase the buildings in the accordance with Article 11 of the Law of Ukraine “On state support of mass media and social protection of journalists”.

The editorial boards also must have the right to purchase other property of the editions (computers, copying equipment, transport, paper, furniture, etc.) at the depreciated cost with installments for 10 and more years. Now this property is regarded as communal. The tax administration should release the mass media from taxes for 1 year (2 years, according to some propositions) after the change of the form of property. I know many journalists of state and communal mass media, who are afraid that they would lose the right for the pensions, which are paid to state workers, after their editions would stop to be state-owned. The Union reckons that all journalists working in TV and radio organizations and periodicals founded by citizens’ unions, state research organizations, educational establishments and communication enterprises should be equated with state workers in the sphere of pensions.

So, we stated the main principles of the draft of the Law of Ukraine “On the liquidation of state and communal mass media and establishment of the form of property needed for the work of the organizations, which deal with mass information” prepared by the NUJU.

The first version of the draft was sent to the oblast organizations of the NUJU. We generalized their propositions and developed the new version of the draft, which was sent to the group of editors of communal mass media. We plan to discuss this problem at the plenum of the NUJU board with the participation of local journalists. We endorse the development of the documents concerning this complicated question. Yet, we protest against the haste and forcing the journalist collectives into the “radiant future”.

In our opinion, the law on the liquidation of state mass media should be approved during this year and come into force since 1 January 2005. This process must not be single-stage, and it should be begun from those collectives, who want that today. The mechanism of the future actions can be improved on their example.

Every journalistic collective, either communal or not, knows that this is not a simple problem. The problem must be discussed by the society seriously and without hurry. Unfortunately, the State committee of TV and radio broadcasting did not react to the both law drafts presented by our Union. The committee also ignored my proposition to conduct, in the first half of October, the joint sitting of the NUJU board and the collegium of the State committee with the participation of top state officials, representatives of ministries, agencies and editorial collectives.

So, I ask President Leonid Kuchma:

-  to declare one time more his approval of the process of democratization, liquidation of state mass media and the development of the freedom of speech in our country;

-  to demand from the administration of the State committee on TV and radio broadcasting to give the concrete explanations about what they have done and what they are going to do for the development of the freedom of speech in the sphere of mass media, creation of proper legal and material conditions for their activities, protection of mass media and journalists from administrative and court persecution;

-  to order the Ministry of Justice to check whether the work of the officials from the State committee of TV and radio broadcasting in public organizations agree with the Ukrainian laws and statutes of these organizations;

-  to raise the question about the conception of liquidation of state mass media at the sitting of the Council in charge of informational politics;

-  to charge Mykola Tomenko, the head of the Supreme Rada committee in charge of the freedom of speech and information, the NUJU, other parliamentary committees, collectives of mass media and lawyers with the development of the draft of the basic program of preparing the editions for the change of the form of property, to discuss this draft in journalists’ organizations.

Now the problem looks as following: either the Ukrainian journalism will, at last, blend with the context of world journalism, or it will transform into the toady of the power. So, journalists and society must make their choice.

  («The Poltava oblast media club», No. 43, 21 August 2003)



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