Whos living in my telly?
The Nation should know who is behind the mass media
(from a speech at the First Congress of “The Peoples Union Our Ukraine” political party
Clearly the desire to know who owns leading television channels is entirely natural, particularly in the light of the coming elections. Ten years ago when I was writing my thesis in the Institute of Journalism, the word “propaganda” was already considered a shameful relic of the Soviet era (although the concept itself never dies). A euphemism had to be used – “The influence of publicist television programs on the formation of public opinion”. No other means of mass information can compare in its powers of persuasion to television with words and images both working to achieve a common goal. The people who have influence on a channels position do not necessarily even need to break the law by giving more broadcasting time to one political faction or another. If, for example, during an interview with a candidate from “the other side”, you simply place the camera 30 centimetres below his or her head, then s/he will be looking down on the voter, and will appear arrogant and supercilious. Yet no monitoring team will record any infringement of candidates equal chances. No need already to mention the legendary 25th shot.
In order to assure myself that there were no dubious individuals capable of such tricks among the founders of our television companies, I decided to find out who has established whom in our television and radio broadcasting realm. And not only to satisfy my personal curiosity, but also for the readers of my own bulletin “Prava Ludyny” [“Human rights”.
This type of information cannot be found just lying about on the street. Our legislators, following some strange logic only they can understand, have only bound the printed mass media to inform their readers about their publisher, founder, address and other such intimate details. Whereas television companies are required only to show their viewers their logotype, and even there, only on programs they themselves have produced.
Anyway, my search for founders began in July 2005. In order not to pester each television and radio company (TRC), it was logical to first of all approach the National Television and Broadcasting Council of Ukraine which issues all broadcasting licences. However, the Executive Secretary, V. Lyasovsky, politely explained that they keep only copies of the founding documents of broadcasters which may differ from the originals, and that therefore it would be better to approach the TRC themselves for more accurate information. I was, of course, silently bemused as to how, given such discrepancies, the National Council could perform its direct duty, this being to oversee, for example, the percentage of foreign investment in the statutory capital of the said TRC. However I went where I was told to go …
I sent courteous letters which effectively boiled down to the formula: “Gjulchatai, reveal your face!” to «1+1», «ERA», «Inter», «Novy kanal» [“New Channel”], «CTB», «ICTV» and to both broadcasters of “5 kanal” – “Express-inform” and “NBM”. My main rationale was the interest of my readers and of society as a whole.
And I even received a few replies. Y. Morozov on behalf of «1+1» sent me back to where I had come from – to the National Council, as well as to the Ministry of Statistics. However I did not go to the latter since there has not been such a ministry in Ukraine since 1997. The Director of “Express-inforrm” (“5 kanal”, I. Rayevsky, replied that I was not a regulatory, nor a law enforcement body, and that they were therefore not obliged to inform me who their founders were. He also explained that in actual fact neither my readers nor society as a whole would be at all interested in knowing such details.
However the most original response was sent by the Closed Joint Stock Company “Ukrainian Independent TV-corporation” (Channel “Inter”). The Manager of the general department, T. Y. Chystyakova, asked me to confirm my intention of paying, according to current hourly rates, for the work of the lawyers firm “Konnov and Sozanovsky” which on behalf of the TRC would prepare a legally correct response to my request for information. Following receipt of my written agreement, Tetyana Yurivna even kindly provided me with the address of this lawyers firm where I would be given a bill for such services. Unfortunately, however, there has been no reply from the first itself, and I have been waiting already for two months.
It is possible that the management of “Era”, “Novy kanal” «STB», «ICTV», «NBM» also told me where to go, but if so, they did this verbally since I received no written response to my journalists request for information.
At my law faculty, while I was writing my Masters thesis on the topic «Guarantees for safeguarding citizens constitutional right to information”, at the theoretical level the mechanisms for these safeguards seemed almost perfect. Actual reality, unfortunately, very often did not even stand near the theory.
The Kyiv City Department of Statistics silently ignored my lawyers request for information regarding the founders of three television and radio companies, although my right as a legal counsel to make such requests is clearly guaranteed by Article 6 by the Law “On the Bar”. It would have been possible, of course, to hurl the new Code of Administrative Justice of Ukraine at this department – as a preventive lesson to stop them violating civil rights, in particular, the rights of lawyers, however another opportunity arose to gain practice in the subtleties of the administrative process.
The Law of Ukraine “On the State registration of legal entities and individuals engaged in business activities” came into effect on 1 July 2004. This law introduces truly revolutionary innovations. In particular, according to Article 20, anyone can make an approach in the manner set out to any executive committee (district administration) and within 5 days for a certain fee receive a copy of the relevant extract from the Single State Register relating to any legal entity whatsoever. The single failing of this law is that responsibility for its implementation is placed with the State Committee of Ukraine on regulatory policy and business activity. The Committee is to approve the form of the extract and the fee payable for its issue. Almost a year and a half since the Law came into force the Committee has finally managed to prepare the relevant Order, but is so far still agreeing it in the recesses of the Cabinet of Ministers, and perhaps in the Ministry of Finance. Certainly such lack of haste by bureaucrats cannot serve as grounds for violating the right to receive information (an extract) guaranteed by the above-mentioned law, since after all, according to Article 19 of the Constitution of Ukraine bodies of state power and their officials are obliged to act only on the grounds and in the manner envisaged by the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine (and this Law, I would repeat, has been in force since 1 July 2004). Having paid, at my own discretion, 17 UH for my requests to issue an extract about each of the three TRC and having received rejections, I have since then been talking about my rights to the bureaucrats of three district administrations in three courts. In the last few days, at the regular session of the Pechersky District Court, the representative of the State Committee on Business Activities promised that the system would really be working within 3-4 weeks. To be on the safe side, of course, it would be better to double this period, that is, right before the elections when it will already be late to find out which legal entities or individuals stood on the other side of the screen, helping voters make a correct choice or manipulating our consciousness.
Therefore, unfortunately, as so often happens in this country, I was forced to use unofficial access to the Single State Register. Out of gratitude to those readers who have read about my trials and tribulations up to this point, I present details of the founders of the main TRC as of 20 January 2006 (all founders are residents of Ukraine, unless stated otherwise in the brackets).
1. The Closed Joint Stock Company “Ukrainska Nezalezhna TV-korporatsiya” [“Ukrainian Independent TV-Corporation”
- Russian Public Television [ORT] (Russia),
- The Ukrainian Association for Economic Cooperation and Development “Dilovy svit” [“Business world”] ,
- The Limited Liability Company «Pegas telebachennya»
2. “The television studio - limited liability company “Studio 1+1”
- Oleksandr Rodnyansky,
- “Inozemne pidpryemstvo [the foreign enterprise] “Inter Media” (resident of Ukraine).
3. The Limited Liability Company “International commercial television and radio company” (ICTV):
- The foreign investment enterprise «Royal Capital»,
- The Limited Liability Company «Tsentralny Moskovsky depositary” [“Central Moscow Depositary” (Russia),
- A subsidiary company “Promidiya”,
- A subsidiary company «Agency of information technologies»,
- The small innovative enterprise «Interpipe».
4. The Closed Joint Stock Company «Novy kanal» [New channel]:
- The foreign investment enterprise «INNOTEX»,
- The Closed Joint Stock Company «NK-HOLDING».
5. The Closed Joint Stock Company «International Media Centre – STB»:
- The Closed Joint Stock Company «International Media Centre”,
- The Company “Shachar Enterprises” (USA),
- The corporation “Internews netyouron “k” (USA).
6. The Closed Joint Stock Company «Telekompaniya TET»:
- Ihor Surkis,
- The Limited Liability Company «Investprojekt»,
- The Added Liability Company «ОМЕТА private»,
- The Company «Suniflеon Holding Limited»,
- The Company «Shonest Investments Limited»
(the latter two are registered at the same address on the Island of Tortola (The British Virgins Islanand).
7. The Limited Liability Company «Television and radio company “Express-inform” – “5 kanal” [“Channel 5”]
- The Closed Joint Stock Company «Ukrainian Industrial and Investment Concern”,
- A subsidiary company «Expressinform-studio».
8. The foreign investment enterprise – limited liability company «Television and radio company «NBM» – “5 kanal”:
- The private company “Cocoa and sugar international” (Belgium),
- The Limited Liability Company «Transat-Brok».
9. The Limited Liability Company «Television Studio «Sluzhba informatsiyi” [“Information Service”] – channel NTN:
- The Limited Liability Company «Kapitalinvest»,
- An unnamed legal entity with the identification code 32727508
10. The Closed Joint Stock Company “Nashe radio” [“Our radio”]:
- The company «INTERUKY HOLDINGS LIMITED» (Cyprus),!
- Andriy Olehovych Volkov,
- The Closed Joint Stock Company “Alpha Capital”.
The present author was also able to establish the shares of each of the above-mentioned founders in the relevant statutory capital , however let us train the founders of TRC to be open in gradual steps …
Of course the majority of these names would say little to those not in the picture. Very often the buying and selling of television companies escapes the notice of the National Council or Statistics bodies – when it is not the actual legal entity – the holder of the licence being bought, but its founders (actually its beneficiaries). However when Article 20 of the Law on State Registration finally begins functioning, it will be possible quite officially to unravel the whole story right up to the specific and so familiar oligarchs or their offshore companies. For example, the co-founder of the firm “Interpipe” which is listed among the owners of “ICTV” is Mykhailo Aronovych Pinchuk, father of the State Deputy V. Pinchuk, who also happens to be the son-in-law of Leonid Kuchma. The Deputys mother – Sophia Josypivna – is also not one of the small fry in “Interpipe”
The EU, incidentally, considers that control by politicians over the mass media seriously jeopardizes pluralism. It demands that member states prohibit such “special interests” (see, for example, the Resolution of the European parliament from 22.04.2004 “On the risks of violations in the EU … of freedom of expression and information»).
I would once again remind the reader that at the moment the information presented here is considered unofficial, and its accuracy depends directly on the quality of the cognac as the currency for payment. Although as a result of this epopee I gained what I had wanted to find, the legal mechanism clearly lost out to the cognac, which is not cheering. After all, according to the supplement to the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe № R(94)13 from 1994, the public should have access to key information about the mass media in order to formulate their opinion as to the quality of the information being provided (for example, it would have been useful for citizens of Ukraine back before the gas crisis to have know who really controlled the Ukrainian channel with the highest rating) It was therefore suggested that member-states of the Council of Europe introduce amendments to national legislation ensuring the transparency of their mass media. Thus, the closed nature of information about national television and radio companies is one little detail which makes it impossible to call Ukraine a European state.
PS. If anyone has decided that I simply had nothing else to do with myself for the last 6 months, I would mention that the initiator of all the attempts, both those mentioned, and those omitted, to bring TRC into the open was the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union which was acted within the framework of a project for the Foundation of Strategy Issues in the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which is financed by the International “Renaissance” Foundation.
 This refers to so-called subliminal images and messages (translators note)
 A famous line from the Soviet film classic “White desert sun”, where one of the heroes is searching for his lost harem. (translators note)
 Tthe Ukrainian channel with the highest rating - “Inter” – is allegedly under the control of the Russian industrial group Evrazholding (translators note)