Chronicle of Freedom of Speech – 2006
In 2006 the Ukrainian media faced the task of consolidating the positive achievements of the Orange Revolution and 2005. This, however, did not take place. Despite expectations, no institutional or legislative reforms for democratizing the information sphere were made.
Instead the level of confrontation between the press and the authorities once again rose.
We are also observing an increase in the number of attacks on journalists. Some indicators have almost doubled since last year. They do not, fortunately, reach the levels of previous years. The Ukrainian authorities must pay attention to the lack of progress in investigating high-profile cases against journalists and draw the appropriate conclusions regarding the efficiency of the law enforcement agencies, otherwise attacks on journalists and attempts at “establishing relations through force” could become everyday events. The authorities must also understand that the lack of progress with the investigation into the murder of Georgy Gongadze, as far as those who ordered and organized the crime are concerned, will adversely affect Ukraines international image in general. Recent events in the investigation, with the change in the team of investigators, would seem to be the latest attempt to drag out the case so that those guilty of committing the most notorious crime in Ukraine remain unpunished.
Worrying indicators regarding arrests and detention of journalists were caused by the elections in Belarus. Since the Orange Revolution Ukrainian journalists have not been subjected to detentions in Ukraine, but only in CIS countries. The lack of arrests or detentions must be welcomed. At the same time it is worrying that there is no legal reaction to cases of beatings, attacks and harassment of journalists. Criminal investigations into such cases are either not launched, or fail to lead anywhere. We are not aware of one case in 2006 being resolved and the perpetrators punished. However the number of such instances connected with journalists professional duty is on the increase. The most critical months in this respect in 2006 were March and August. This was due to the parliamentary election campaign, during which an increase in conflict is normal, and after the political crisis which ended in August with the appointment of Viktor Yanukovych Prime Minister.
Several key issues remain in the information sphere which must be resolved if this sphere is to move towards greater democratization. The first of these is the creation of a system of public broadcasting. The introduction of such a system would make it possible to create a truly independent and quality channel which would set the standard for quality informative journalism and would be focused on the interests of the public. Despite statements regarding the willingness of those in power to create such a system, no real steps towards this have yet been made. There is still not even agreement as to which sources of financing will be used for public broadcasting.
Secondly, an effective strategy plan needs to be drawn up for denationalizing the media and the appropriate draft law prepared. As a result of this, the authorities must cease to be counted among the founders of media outlets. This process however must be carried out bearing in mind the social tension which is likely during the reforms.
Institute for Mass Information