Judicial system being used to eliminate TV stations, journalists say
Reporters Without Borders condemns a Kiev court’s decision on 8 June to cancel the licences of TV5 Kanal and TVi, two stations that are regarded as critical of President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration, especially TVi, which regularly interviews independent experts or opposition figures who openly criticise the government.
On 7 June, the eve of the court’s decision, the journalists at TV 5 Kanal released the text of an open letter to the president claiming they were being harassed by the SBU, Ukraine’s main security agency. Calling for the protection of their rights under the constitution, they said they wanted to meet with Yanukovych to explain their fear that their station was about to be broken up.
Their fears were confirmed by the 8 June decision cancelling the allocation of TV broadcast frequencies announced on 27 January, several weeks before the current administration took office. Under the 27 January decision, TV5 Kanal was allocated 26 frequencies, TVi got 33 and the Inter group got just 20. The court, which issued its ruling in response to a legal appeal by the Inter group, also withdrew the licences of TV5 Kanal and TVi.
The journalists of TV5 Kanal and TVi gave a joint news conference yesterday at which they called for the creation of an independent parliamentary commission to investigate the incompatibility of Valery Khoroshkovky’s simultaneous positions as head of the SBU and member of the supreme court and the conflict of interests resulting from the fact that he also owns the Inter group. He should be suspended from his official posts while the investigation went ahead, they said.
The journalists from the two stations also called for public supervision of the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting and an end to the use of the judicial system to get rid of news media, which is what has been happening ever since the presidential election (held in late January and early February), they said.
Reporters Without Borders voices its support for the two TV stations, their condemnation of an unprecedented and unacceptable conflict of interests and their call for Khoroshkovky to resign from some of his positions.
The multiple posts held by Khoroshkovky are incompatible in a democracy with the principles of freedom of expression and impartial regulation of the media. Reporters Without Borders also believes that is vital that the National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting should be impartial and free of external pressure.
Mykola Knyazhytsky, the head of TVi, and Ivan Adamchuk, the head of TV5 Kanal, said they would appeal against the court’s decision. The National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting has meanwhile announced that a new allocation of frequencies will be carried out in a completely transparent manner. But that does not mean there will be no political pressure.
This crisis comes just days after several dozen journalists wore T-shirts with the legend “Stop the censorship” at the news conference which President Yanukovych gave on 4 June to mark the completion of his first 100 days in office. The journalists, allied in the “Stop the censorship” collective, did this to draw attention to the problems the media have been experiencing since February. Many of the TV5 Kanal and TVi journalists are members of the collective.
When the president was offered one of the T-shirts, he told the journalists they had his support. “No one is putting pressure on you and no one will,” he said. “I want to cooperate with you, I want us to work together to find ways to eradicate press freedom violations.”
People attending the news conference said the president appeared to be expecting the demonstration and seemed to be ready to respond to questions about censorship. Yanukovych added that if they had “concrete examples,” he was “ready to support” their movement. Journalists demonstrated again in Kiev on 6 June.
Reporters Without Borders continues to be concerned about the situation of the media, which has deteriorated markedly since President Yanukovych took office in February. The press freedom organisation is due to visit Ukraine next month at the president’s invitation.