Reporters without Borders: Ukraine is seeing a serious fusing of politics and the media
During an interview of TV Channel 5, the Secretary General of Reporters without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard expressed the view that it should be impossible for the Head of the Security Service [SBU] to at the same time be the head of a media holding. He called the fact that Head of the SBU, Valery Khoroshkovsky, owns the Inter Media Group a “real conflict of interests”.
“It seems to me impossible for the head of a security service to simultaneously be the head of a media holding. And from what I’ve been told, he is the head of many channels, and that is absolutely inadmissible.”
Mr Julliard said that after meeting with authorized representatives of television channels, in particular, Channel V and TVi, “you have the sense that in this case there is a certain amount of pressure. Political pressure, and on the judiciary, in such a way that it isn’t independent and impartial. If nothing changes, you could end up in such a situation where leading channels will be closed. There is a certain risk that they will lose their viewers”, Mr. Julliard said.
In an interview to the newspaper Kommersant – Ukraine, Mr Julliard said that he and his colleagues were convinced that there were cases of censorship in Ukraine. He believes that the Head of State needs to clearly state his position regard the relations between the regime and the media.
Asked whether there were encroachments on freedom of speech, Mr Juilliard answered in the affirmative. He mentioned physical attacks on journalists; many cases of censorship on television, in particular cases where information was recalled, removed from a news programme or where journalists were prohibited from covering certain subjects. “I have the impression that at present in Ukraine information containing criticism of the regime is not reported. We are not speaking about censorship at the centralized level or saying that there some kind of structure involved in censoring information, however journalists are not given the opportunity to carry out objective investigations and cover certain subjects.
Asked whether, in the absence of such a structure, RWB is speaking of clashes in views between journalists and media outlet owners, Mr Julliard said that perhaps this was the case, however “in Ukraine one sees a serious fusing of politics and the media, as represented by the owners and media management, and that in itself creates the conditions for censorship. That cannot be totally avoided, but there needs to be a dividing line between politically engaged information and objective, impartial journalism.
He was asked how effective he believed the parliamentary commission investigating cases of censorship to be.
“For the moment I can only say that within the commission there is irreconcilable political conflict and that worries us. Representatives of the opposition and of the coalition have diametrically opposite views regarding the nature of cases of censorship. I’m not convinced that under such circumstances their work will be effective. However such a commission is necessary since it alerts high-ranking politicians to the issue.”
What preliminary recommendations would RWB make to President Yanukovych?
“We would advise President Yanukovych to clearly state his position on issues regarding relations between the regime and the media. He should give more interviews, make official statements which will have great weight. That does not mean that he should take part in drawing up laws, investigations, however symbolically the President should adopt a strong position and remove all suspicions of trying to influence the media. Do everything so that nobody has doubts as to whether the President supports freedom of speech. The President should give more attention to those who are asking him to support freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Asked whether he thought it conceivable that the President might not listen to their recommendations, Mr Juilliard stressed that RWB do not run the country, and cannot change everything. “However I think that President Yanukovych should listen to our recommendations if the international image of the country is important to him “