A forcible argument
Censorship in Ukraine is prohibited by the Constitution, but not everybody knows about that. At least, I have the reasons to doubt that V. Zhelezny, the head of the department in charge of the press and information, is aware of this norm.
In the end of 2003 the town council of Kremenna approved the creation of new newspaper «Miski visti». It should be incorrect to say that this newspaper became a beloved child of the Kremenna district administration, especially if to take into account the fact that the editorial collective headed by Irina Chernobay has rather independent position and is far from using the principle widespread among district newspapers - not to air the dirty linen in public.
Nevertheless, a journalist of the newspaper attended the sittings of the district administration, and after one of these sittings the material «Outcasts for truth are blessed» was published. That was a kind of drawing from nature: one of the heads of village councils had showed excess of zeal and was removed from the hall. The newspaper did not insist that this removal had been illegal or incorrect, but only objectively described the circumstances.
At the next sitting the journalist … was driven away from the hall. Naturally, this incident caused the publication «Outcasts for truth are blessed-2» in the subsequent issue of the newspaper («MV», No. 8, 8 February).
The newspaper stated the facts and supplemented the text with the short and discreet commentary: «According to Article 10 of the Law of Ukraine «On information», the right for information is guaranteed «with the duty of the organs of state power, organs of local and regional self-government to inform about their activities and decisions». The Law «On printed mass media» contains another interesting clause: «a journalist has the right, after presentation of editorial ID card or other documents confirming his belonging to mass media, to be present in the zone of natural and man-caused catastrophes, accidents, mass disorders, at meetings and demonstrations, as well as on the territories, where the state of emergency is proclaimed». Well, if a journalist has the right to be present in such places without any accreditation, then what can be said about the sittings in a provincial district administration…»
However, the conflicts between journalists and state officials emerge very often, so I believe that it would not be interesting for our readers. Yet, out story had an unexpected continuation. On 26 February Irina Chernobay, a representative of the well-known oblast edition, got letter No. 114 signed by Vadim Zhelezny, the head of the oblast department in charge of the press and information. In what follows I will quote this letter almost completely.
«The department got the control copy of the newspaper «Miski visti» (No. 5 of 5 February 2004), in which, under the title «Bitter truth», the material «Outcasts for truth are blessed-2» had been published. The publication interprets the provisions of the operating informational laws concerning the rights and duties of the subjects of informational relations rather inaccurately and in a biased way, which is inadmissible.
So, we consider necessary to point out that the duty of the organs of state power and organs of self-government to inform the public about their activities, stipulated by Article 10 «Guarantees of the right for information» of the Law of Ukraine «On information», may not be separated from Article 21 «Information of the state organs and organs of local and regional self-government» of the above-mentioned Law, which envisages the ways of presentation of such information to the interested persons: publication in official printed editions, spreading through informational services, etc. The presence of journalists at the sittings that concern the current work of the organs of executive power and organs of self-government is not stipulated by law and is possible only by the consent of these organs.
In this connection we want to inform you that the restriction of the access of journalists to the sittings of the district state administration is rightful from the viewpoint of the informational legislation, as well as the demand about the accreditation of the journalist in the district administration.
Such publications violate the demands of Article 44 «Duties of the participants of informational relations» of the Law of Ukraine «On information» and are especially inadmissible in the edition founded by the organ of self-government…
Taking into consideration the above-stated arguments, we demand to bring the work of the newspaper «Miski visti» to correspondence with the operating informational laws of Ukraine, to take measures for the prevention of the arbitrary interpretation of the operating informational laws of Ukraine and the violation of the norms of journalistic ethics in the published materials».
We will not comment the officials passage about journalistic ethics: maybe, he sincerely believes that his authority in the journalistic circles is so high that he has the moral right to preach to them.
As to the interpretation of laws by V. Zhelezny, we cannot ignore this trick: Kremenna journalists wrote about elucidation of the activities of the power organ, and Mr. Zhelezny referred… to the norm regulating the access to the information of the power organ, that is to documents. Well, does it mean that a newspaper may not write about anything not connected with the documentation of this organ? Yet, it is interesting for me to learn, for instance, why the state organ created such document, but not another one, what alternatives were discussed, if any? And whether one or another local leader can speak normal language or only swear? Do I have the right to read about that in a newspaper? According to Zhelezny – NO!
One can only guess, on the basis of which law Mr. Zhelezny came to the conclusion that «… the restriction of the access of journalists to the sittings of the district state administration is rightful from the viewpoint of the informational legislation…» Article 26 of the Law of Ukraine «On printed mass media» states the opposite: a journalist has the right «to visit the organs of state power, organs of local and regional self-government…» Not a single law envisages any exceptions from this common right of journalists. Or maybe Zhelezny uses some other, unwritten, laws, according to which a head of power organ is not the person, temporarily hired by people, but a master of private firm, who manages the information about this firm on the basis of the right of private property?
Besides, there exists the Edict of the President of Ukraine «On the preparation of propositions on guaranteeing of the publicity and openness of the activities of the organs of state power», which orders to the officials, in particular to V. Zhelezny, «to develop the cooperation of the organs of state power with mass media and public organizations in the questions of rendering to public of the reliable and thorough information about the activities of the organs of state power…» It is obvious that this text has the sense quite different from the right of officials to admit or not admit a journalist to the open sittings of district administration on the basis of their own wishes. Well, maybe Leonid Kuchma is not an authority for Zhelezny.
I can assume that Mr. Zhelezny has the right to interpret laws as he wants. If he would send this juridical opus to me, the head of public organization, we would read it, laugh and forget. Yet, in the last paragraph of the letter he demands «to bring the work of the newspaper «Miski visti» to correspondence with the operating informational laws of Ukraine». I want to point out that the matter concerns the evaluation of the facts, and, according to the recommendation of Zhelezny, from now on the journalists of «MV» should elucidate the facts not independently, but from the standpoint of the opinion of the oblast state administration. So, the question appears: who gave the right to the official in charge of information to meddle into the editorial policy of the newspaper? Who gave him the right to impose on journalists his, to put it mildly, not indisputable opinion? Such actions resemble censorship, which is, as we remember, prohibited by the Ukrainian Constitution.