Disturbing deterioration in press freedom situation since new president took over
Reporters Without Borders is dismayed by an alarming deterioration in the press freedom situation in Ukraine since the two-round presidential election on 17 January and 7 February, which was won by Viktor Yanukovych.
Despite the persistence of self-censorship, Ukraine had risen significantly in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index in recent years, but the past three months have seen a return of intimidation and physical attacks on journalists and abuse of authority towards the media.
Reporters Without Borders voices its support for the open letter which 17 journalists working for privately-owned television station TVi have sent to President Yanukovych urging him to put a stop to interference in the media by the SBU, the country’s main security agency. TVi’s journalists complain of harassment by the SBU and accuse it of defending the personal and business interests of its director, A. Khoroshkovskiy.
The press freedom organisation is also concerned about an unexplained decision to disband the Commission for Establishing Freedom of Expression, which until now had been attached to the president’s office. It was dissolved by a decree posted on the president’s website. Yanukovych should explain this move and spell out his policy towards the media.
Reporters Without Borders urges the president to uphold freedom of the press, which is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution and in various treaties and conventions that Ukraine has signed. He must change his approach to the media and restore the trend of the past few years towards greater media freedom.
Several cases of arrests and physical attacks on journalists have been reported in the past few days. In one case, Andriy Vey, the editor of the local daily Express, was arrested at his home in the western city of Lviv at 8 a.m. on 12 April by men in plain clothes claiming to be policemen and was taken to a local police station. When journalists from the newspaper went to the police station, showed their press cards and asked the reason for his arrest, policemen hit them and broke their cameras.
The fact that Vey was questioned for only seven minutes reinforced the suspicions of the newspaper’s staff that that the police were just harassing the newspaper because of its investigative reporting. When the newspaper’s lawyers asked the interior ministry on the evening of 12 April why the police had arrested Vey, the ministry replied that he had been arrested by tax department officials, not the police, because the newspaper had not paid its taxes. This was denied by the tax department, however. After receiving a delegation of Express journalists, the parliamentary commission for freedom of expression reportedly decided to propose creating a special parliamentary commission of enquiry to shed light on the case.
Reporters Without Borders is shocked by a physical attack on Borys Brahinskiy, a journalist who works for TV 9 Kanal in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk. Accosted by an unidentified youth near the TV station’s building at around 7:30 p.m. on 12 August, Brahinskiy was hit in the face, thrown to the ground and kicked repeatedly. The assailant, who appeared to have been waiting for Brahinskiy, made off after the attack without taking anything from him. Brahinskiy, who sustained multiple bruising and will be unable to work for about week, is convinced that the assault was linked to his work. “I don’t look for trouble but my programme is often tough and analyses events, and that clearly does not please everyone,” he said.
Two journalists, Ihor Myrishnychenko of the sports TV station Poverkhnost and Andriy Mokhnyk of the newspaper Svoboda, were arrested on 8 April while covering a news conference in the Kiev exhibition centre. Myrishnychenko said he was escorted from the room immediately after asking a question, and was then bundled into a car by men with shaved heads and held until late in the evening. He and Mokhnyk denied allegations that they gone to the news conference with the aim of creating a disturbance and were acquitted when taken before a magistrate.
When reporter Serhi Andrushko of television station STB tried to put a question to Volodymyr Storozhenko, the head of the city of Kiev’s main housing department on 8 April, Storozhenko grabbed his microphone and threw it in a garbage can.
As well as TVi, the activities of two TV stations are also under threat:
Avtor-V, an independently-owned TV station based in the eastern city of Dniprodzerzhynsk, had to stop broadcasting after the municipal authorities decided to terminate the rental contract on its building six months early, at the end of July, in what the station’s director, Lyudmyla Kachanova, called an act of intimidation. Kachanova said the station has been regarded as a critic of the municipal administration ever since a new mayor was elected in March 2008. The new municipal authorities even referred to Avtor-V on several occasions as an “enemy.” The station has temporarily relocated to nearby Dnipropetrovsk in order to continue broadcasting and plans to file a complaint against the municipal authorities.
Local TV station Hlas has had to suspend broadcasting in Ilichevsk, a town in the southwestern province of Odessa, because of harassment by local authorities who had been criticised by the station, one of its journalists, Liana Tateyeva, said.