24.07.2006 | Halya Coynash

How not to treat the mass media in Ukraine


Considering the competition for attention from a certain (somewhat hypothetical) legislative body in Ukraine, the recent scandal over press freedom remained  “breaking news” for more than a week.  A certain State Deputy of the leading party in the so-called “Anti-Crisis coalition”, while walking with other members of the same party and his bodyguards, saw fit to physically and verbally attack 2 journalists from TV Channel STB, and to forcibly remove their video cassette with footage. 

One senses a fundamental misunderstanding here.  One side, represented by the same “politician” clearly believed that the “nonsense” was over, and carte blanche fully restored. He was not the only one, incidentally – there had been two other attacks by representatives of the Party of the Regions over the last month or so.

Nonetheless, think again – those, at least, who acknowledge such uncomfortable mental processes.

The Media Trade Union of Ukraine, and other media unions, fully backed by human rights groups and many public figures expressed outrage. The Media Union stated, in addition, that given the nature of the assault – on journalists carrying out their professional duties, a mere apology was entirely insufficient. 

To not gratuitously assist those who have by now sensed the political mileage to be had, I will mention only the latest consequences: a criminal investigation has been lodged, and the offending politician has seemingly been expelled from the party (although not, despite original assurances, deprived of his deputy’s mandate)..

I would highlight also, however, a KEY DIFFERENCE, that can easily be missed between the past which Mr Kalashnikov is so eager to reinstate and the present time.  Two-three years ago Mr Kalashnikov would not have misfired quite so unsuccessfully.  His assumption of carte blanche would have been backed by his party, and while voices – one or two – might have been raised, there would have been relatively few media outlets willing to cover the story, not to speak of the law enforcement bodies prepared to even consider criminal charges.

Recent events have filled those who care about Ukraine’s future with feelings of impotent rage and despair - and those who do not with gloating satisfaction.

Perhaps we should all engage in the above-mentioned mental processes a little more actively.

Yes, if we believed that the Orange Revolution rid the country of the baddies, and established the reign of the goodies, then whoops – both reality and mental processes have let us down.

If, however, we leave such binary notions of good and evil to Hollywood, then certain conclusions seem called for.  While the promises of those on Maidan {Independence Square and others] during the Orange Revolution that the criminals who were plundering the country would be punished can seem a bitter mockery right now, there was another aspect of the same revolution which must not be forgotten.  Ukrainians asserted their right to not be deceived, to be the bearers of sovereignty as enshrined in the Constitution and to insist on their constitutional rights.

Since then, a lot has happened in the country.  Individuals have become much more confident in asserting their rights – and there have been cases when they have had these rights upheld. Human rights organizations could not in fact have become more active than they already were  – they have however found that they are taken considerably more seriously.

Almost two years ago, in November 2004, a sign language news presenter on the state-owned television channel UT-1  told her viewers that all that they had been told before was total lies and said goodbye, perhaps for ever, before leaving the studio. It proved not to be forever. She was supported by all her colleagues, and within a few hours the television channel was forced to make a statement promising to counter all further attempts at censorship.

In the light of the recent conflict over press freedom and the clear and unequivocal stand taken by representatives of the media, it would surely be premature to dismiss the Revolution..

Halya Coynash

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