04.09.2006 | Viktor Bezpalko, Angelika Isidina

Are journalists protected in Donetsk?


A journalist’s profession “is dangerous, and difficult” – the truth of this has long been beyond dispute. This is particularly noticeable in Donetsk. However the lack of freedom of speech in the region cannot only be attributed to the “regionals” [The Party of the Regions].  The fact is that journalists of a certain type have been trained in the Donetsk region. They are firstly ferociously politicized and normally attached to one political force which their publication or television channel represents.  Secondly, the majority of them are antagonistic towards those colleagues working for “enemy” publications. One thus finds people of one profession often from the outset at odds with one another.

The murder of Ihor Aleksandrov shook the whole world, yet how many journalist colleagues from Donetsk risked investigating the murder?  There were three.  Yet if you find five-year-old copies of Donetsk newspapers you’ll see that they were full of nonsensical versions and guesses, only helping the real culprits.

One may also recall another tragedy – the murder of journalist from “Donetsk news” Alexandr Panin. He was investigating the “prikhvatization”* of the Komsomolsk Ilych combined iron ore and steel works. Telekritika at one time gave coverage to this strange murder. After the journalist’s disappearance he was simply … dismissed from his job. And which Donetsk colleague spoke out against the persecution of the newspaper “Ostrov” [“Island”]?  We live in an amazing regions where journalists never showed professional solidarity. However, it would seem that the times are gradually changing, and that this time the system of “information umbrella” created by the “grey cardinal” of the region, Mr Gurbych, has malfunctioned.
At the end of August a new victim of the said system appeared – journalist from the Internet publication “Ura-Inform - Donbas” Kyrill Sazanov.  This Donetsk journalist was asked for help in gathering iformation about the air  disaster involving the Russian Tupolev plane TU- 154.  Kyrill was the first journalist at the scene of the tragedy. Obviously, as a decent and professional journalist he could not refuse to help colleagues despite the fact that they were generally thought of as “orange”.  When you’re asked to tell the truth about such a tragedy, what has politics to do with anything?  Especially since Kyrill had already first passed his exclusive material to his own publication.  It would seem there was nothing to reproach him for.  However …

As Sazanov himself told local journalists, on Monday he was phone by Larisa Lysnyak, head of the regional division of “Ura-Inform” and informed that the publication had decided to dispense with his services since he had appeared on Channel 5. “That’s Channel 5, and you just can’t do that”, she said.

“Ura-Inform” don’t like Channel 5 which has been traditionally regarded as the mouthpiece of their political opponents.

The Kyiv headquarters of “Ura-Inform” tried immediately to reject the journalist’s words, claiming that he had  been dismissed because his work had deteriorated, he’d supposedly started writing worse., and not keeping up with the material.  However, if out of curiosity you glance on the “Ura-Inform” site, you’ll see that Sazanov is the most published author. His material is the most hard-hitting. An excellent analyst, he carries out journalist investigations, and is brilliant at attacking the Donetsk court system.

“I went deeper into the subject of land being allocated in Donetsk. I was told that I could touch Rotov (the head of the city branch of the party “Batkivshchyna” [- part of Tymoshenko’s Bloc – translator]), Voropaev (Donetsk businessman and BYuT activist), but I should be nice to “good people”

Perhaps Kyrill went too deep into the land issue?

Especially since not everyone will risk so openly speaking about the rules in the local mass media.  “If you work on a site which supports “the blue and white” side, it doesn’t mean that you’re in the Party of the Regions. However, obviously, the management views this differently, and if you work for them, don’t mix with so-called “orange” publications. I remember there was a lot of talk about the threat to freedom of speech because of the new Cabinet of Ministers. I didn’t want to believe it, because that should be a past age. However, as you see, there are still people living in the past”.

Kyrill Sazanov is today receiving support from many Donetsk journalists.  Signatures are being collected for a petition in support of him, and colleagues are demanding that he be reinstated. The journalist himself has decided to fight to the end. However his aim is not to be reinstated at a publication where he is seen not as a journalist, but as a soldier. “I will not make compromises”.  We will try to use this occasion to defend journalists against uncontrolled lawlessness”.

What is cheering is that a long-term opponent of “Ura-Inform” – the Internet site “Novosti Donetska” [“News of Donetsk”] which supports BYuT has come out in support of Sazanov. One would like to believe that the journalists are not trying to get political mileage, but are prompted by genuine journalist solidarity.


*  “prikhvatization”  - a play on words, this adds a letter to the word for “privatization” which makes it close to the word for “grabbing, appropriating” [translator’s note]

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