President’s assurances on freedom of speech viewed with scepticism
In Thursday’s edition, the newspaper Kommersant reports on both the Open Letter from the International Press Institute (IPI) to President Yanukovych in which it expresses concern over “a disturbing deterioration in press freedom over the last six months in Ukraine” and the President’s “response” posted on Ukrainian and Russian on his website.
The IPI end their letter by saying: “We hope President Yanukovych takes note of the serious concerns we have outlined in our letter, and acts to address them. After several years of press freedom progress, Ukraine risks undoing those gains and sliding backwards into a climate of intimidation characterised by the absence of independent news.”
The President has stated that the development of freedom of the press in Ukraine is irreversible and that he will not allow censorship. The Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech responded with disbelief to the President’s statement.
Kommersant quotes the IPI as stating that there had been a noticeable deterioration in freedom of speech since Mr Yanukovych’s election in February 2010. “The current developments run counter to your public pledges to defend the freedom of the press and "to prevent pressure on the media".
In July Reporters without Borders visited Ukraine and issued statements expressing much the same concerns.
IPI was created in 1950 by the editors of 34 publications in order to defend the principles of press freedom in the world. It presently unites journalists from 115 countries and is based in Vienna.
IPI is “particularly concerned about a Kiev court’s decision to annul the allocation of broadcasting frequencies to two privately-run TV channels: TVi and 5 Kanal.
IPI is alarmed at reports of an increase in the number of assaults against journalists and a failure to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice.
In a number of instances, involvement by state security forces has been alleged.”
President Yanukovych’s response was immediate with an answer the same day, albeit not in English, the language of the letter to him. “I again state that the process of development and expansion of freedom of the press in Ukraine is irreversible. And I will never allow a return to censorship or any other methods of pressure on journalists.”
He states that he as Guarantor of the Constitution does not have the right to influence the courts, but says “I have always said that I will do all that is possible so that Channel 5 continues to broadcast.” He asserts that he wants there to be more independent channels in Ukraine.
In the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech Kommersant heard scepticism over the President’s words. According to the Secretary of the Committee Yury Stets (from the opposition Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence faction] “If the President watches Channel 5 as he asserts, then he should have noticed that Khoroshkovsky (the owner of the Inter Media Group and Head of the Security Service) is using administrative resources to put pressure on the courts. The President should have seen how his guards beat an STB journalist, while the police obstructed the work of a journalist from Novy Kanal, yet he is silent and reacts only to the statement of international organizations with such fob-off letters”.
New information from a report at http://www.kommersant.ua/doc.html?docId=1486010