Changes in Climate with Freedom of Speech. Just as Imperceptible, Just as Dangerous
The force used against journalists from TV Channel 5 on 27 November during the Prime Minister’s visit to the Tax Code protesters yet again demonstrates that the problem is becoming systemic. Such incidents have taken place with TV STB journalist Serhiy Andrushko who was, without any good reason, rough-handled by a member of the President’s guard, and who had his microphone ripped from him by an official from the Kyiv City State Administration. In neither case were those responsible punished, and the incident on Maidan [Independence Square] is the logical consequence.
The systemic nature of the problem is reflected in dry statistics: since 2008 the number of news items about violations of freedom of speech has tripled, and economic, political and indirect pressure on journalists – quadrupled. These are based on Institute for Mass Information data.
Freedom of speech is in the first instance about the possibility for journalists to carry out their professional duty of keeping the public informed. It is for this reason that the international community pays such attention to violations of journalists’ rights and their investigation.
In Ukraine the number of such cases is steadily rising while the number of those investigated remains pitifully small. That too is a logical consequence. If there is no investigation and nobody is punished for assaults on journalists, the temptation overcomes to deal with journalists in that manner.
Statistics for assaults and intimidation of journalists have remained on the same level for three years. There were 25 during the first 10 months of this year, last year the number was two smaller.
The number of news items concerning infringements of freedom of speech (from January to October each year)
These are entirely specific facts for the authorities and the end in each case needs to be provided by the law enforcement bodies. Without that, without an investigation and court case, Ukraine will not be considered a country which safeguards freedom of speech.
Such figures and cases are not normal.
We should begin our analysis with the most flagrant examples of violation of freedom of speech, this being disappearances and assaults on journalists and threats.
Following the murder of Georgy Gongadze and Ihor Aleksandrov there had been no crimes involving the death of journalists, however this year has seen one. This is the disappearance and suspected murder of Vasyl Klymentyev, Chief Editor of the Kharkiv newspaper who was last seen in August. The case gained considerable international publicity and discussion among journalist colleagues, yet there have thus far been no results of the investigation.
We must also mention the brazen attack on the Editor of Kolomyya Herald, Vasyl Demyaniv, in which the journalist could have died.
Other incidents included obstruction of the work of Novy Kanal journalist Serhiy Kurtakov during the press conference opening a highly controversial exhibition entitled “Volyn Massacre – Polish and Jewish victims of the OUN-UPA” where the police threw him out, using force.
There was also the assault on STB’s Serhiy Andrushko by a Presidential Guard (who has never even been named) and the incident mentioned above with a Kyiv Administration official, Volodymyr Storozhenko.
Incidents in October included the beating with wooden bats of the public activist and publisher of the journal “Horozhanyn” Yury Yurin in Mykolaiv;
the assault on journalist from the Internet publication Volyn Information Portal OnLine, Andriy Kalakhan in Lutsk;
intimidation over the telephone by unidentified individuals of the General Producer of the television channel recently created by the Western Information Company [ZIK] in Lviv;
the assault on a filming crew of the Chornomorska Television and Radio Company in Feodosiya;
threats from National Deputy Mykhailo Chechetov to close the programme “Kyiv Forum” in Kyiv.
There has been a considerable increase in the amount and intensity of economic, political and indirect pressure on the media. According to IMI data, this increased from 13 cases in 2008 to 56 in 2010.
Among such cases, the most prominent was the cancellation of the broadcasting licences for Channel 5 and TVI in summer.
In October journalists from the TV channel Rivne 1 stated that their management were resorting to censorship. The conflict was linked with a journalist investigation programme called “Fourth Power” which, in the management’s view, was “not worth broadcasting during the elections”, as well as with coverage of a road accident involving Myroslav Bertash, son of the Head of the Rivne Regional State Administration and Head of the Rivne Regional Branch of the Party of the Regions, Vasyl Bertash. The management rejected the accusations.
Overall the number of reports of obstruction of journalists in their work has doubled, from 19 in 2009 to 40 in 2010.
On 6 October journalists from the political programme “Between the Lines” on TV TET – Dnipropetrovsk were not admitted into the session of the Dnipropetrovsk City Electoral Commission.
In order to attend the sessions of the Poltava City Council, local journalists have to undergo accreditation. Journalists are not informed whether they have received it or not.
In Uzhhorod the local territorial electoral commission imposed the mandatory condition that they read material about their activities before its publication in the press, as well as special conditions for access to their meetings. The decision was later cancelled.
This is clear evidence of “changes in climate” in the media over the last three years. The trend reflects an increase in the “pain threshold” of Ukrainian media outlets. Stalin once said that “the death of one person is a tragedy, the death of millions – statistics”. What must we do to ensure that these statistics do not become normal for use? And mainly, how can we prevent the beating up or death of a journalist becoming an everyday thing against a background of our encroachments on freedom of speech?
Institute for Mass Information
See the following (and links below the text) for more information about:
Vasyl Klymentyev http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1291112947
Channel 5 incident http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1291072924#
Dementiy Bily http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1285059645