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30.05.2011 | Halya Coynash

Ukrainian TV Patch Up Job on PACE Recommendations

   

When the questions are absolutely predictable, why would politicians risk being caught out lying?  After all even the cheapest image-maker will give them hints how to touch up the truth. Nor are there any grounds for believing that the Ukrainian regime stints on such reality enhancers.

President Yanukovych had this to say about freedom of speech in Ukraine when tackled by Polish journalists: “We can see open discussion on television today which nobody obstructs and freedom of speech is assured. At present we see the opposition on all media outlets and their point of view is voiced”.

The constant diet of television studio chat shows is becoming more and more reminiscent of the pop song fodder for the Proles in Orwell’s 1984 however one cannot deny that different points of view are aired.

On the TV news, however, where viewers go for information, not to be entertained by an endless flow of lies and counter-lies, there has long been neither discussion nor freedom of speech.

The lengths to which reality is touched up could be seen on the State-owned First National Channel or UTV-1 this last week.  Before citing the real gem, let’s look at the carefully orchestrated introduction to it. Those who seek information from various sources and check the labels before consumption already know about the scandal over the legally baffling extensions to the remand in custody of former Minister of Internal Affairs in Tymoshenko’s government and leader of the opposition People’s Self-Defence Party, Yury Lutsenko. They are aware of the doubts also expressed about each of the three criminal prosecutions the opposition politician is charged with.  Such people are an absolute minority.

That part of the overwhelming majority who listen to the news prepared with their taxes on UTV-1 did learn of the second of two scandalous court hearings with regard to Yury Lutsenko.  They were informed that the trial has been adjourned for two weeks that his applications for the removal of one judge and for release from custody pending trial were turned down.

All correct, and if they mangled the reason for the adjournment, surely that’s not crucial?  However we can assume that somebody thought long and hard about what was crucial, with the viewers helpfully reminded that “the former Minister is being tried for appropriation of property on a particularly large scale, abuse of his official position and exceeding his authority”. (http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2011/05/27/5317)

End of the news item.

The gem should be viewed in all its glory “The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE], recommends that politicians not interfere in the investigation of criminal prosecutions against representatives of the Ukrainian opposition. Politicians should not interfere in the investigation of criminal prosecutions against representatives of the Ukrainian opposition, PACE President Mevlüt Cavusoglu believes. What is at present happening in Ukraine he calls a legitimate process which politicians should not try to influence”. (http://1tv.com.ua/uk/news/2011/05/27/5318)

You sometimes read complicated sentences which need to be cut up into chunks in order to understand who does what. Here it seems remarkably clear who is brazenly interfering, and who, on the contrary, is defending the law. 

What is not clear is whether Mr Cavusoglu finds that so obvious. There would seem little doubt that he did speak to journalists from Interfax Ukraine, though it seems a touch strange that the agency would appear to have only published the interview in Russian (and not on their Ukrainian and English sites). It must be said that a couple of statements the PACE President made could do with clarification, however it is quite apparent that at the meeting referred to in the interview, PACE members grilled representatives of the Ukrainian government about possible selective prosecutions and interference by those in power, not interference by the opposition.

Worth mentioning that the baffling events linked with the apparent detention of former Prime Minister, presidential candidate and leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, Yulia Tymoshenko, prompted swift response from abroad. Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament spoke of the political nature of Tymoshenko’s case.  Speaker of Ukraine’s Parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn announced publicly after a meeting with PACE President Mevlüt Cavusoglu that “the events linked with the leader of the All-Ukrainian Association Batkivshchyna, Yulia Tymoshenko, are to be considered during the joint visiting session of the Bureau and Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] in Kyiv”.  On 26 May a statement was issued on behalf of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission. Given the restraints of diplomatic etiquette, this seems quite unequivocal: “We note the danger of provoking any perception that judicial measures are used selectively, and we stress the importance of ensuring the maximum transparency of investigations, prosecutions and trials  We consider these principles especially important in a country with which we intend to enter into a deeper contractual relationship built upon political association, and we recall that Ukraine currently holds the Chairmanship of the Committee”.

On that same day, Freedom House also stated htat the detention of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko “confirms Freedom House’s concerns regarding increased selective prosecution of political opponents in Ukraine”.

The same concerns were demonstrated by the Ambassadors of Sweden and Finland who attended the hearing into the Lutsenko case on Monday 23 May. And by the Danish Helsinki Committee on Human Rights in its Preliminary Report on the Cases against Former Minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Lutsenko and former First Deputy Minister of Justice, Yevhen Korniychuk.

The list can be extended.

Or you can forget about such “biased” (perhaps “commissioned” by the opposition?) reactions, and the unkind words in the European Neighbourhood Policy Country Report 2010 on Ukraine about deterioration in “fundamentalfreedoms such as the freedom of the media and assembly and democratic standards”, and just turn on your television.

After all it’s simple when you can rely on your own people. They know how to correctly report the Yulia Tymoshenko case and inconvenient questions: “The Prosecutor General in person told EU, UK and US ambassadors about the Tymoshenko case. The meeting was held because, according to the Prosecutor’s Press Service, the case has been overly politicized and European institutions are giving significance to a criminal prosecution of one of the leaders of the opposition”.

They understand that main principle: be positive or say nothing. On UTV-1 there was not a word about the unkind Report, the statements, etc, however viewers were treated to the news that “Ukrainian priorities during its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe are praised by PACE”.  Mevlüt Cavusoglu did indeed begin his address with words about common priorities, however in a week so filled with other events, statements and hard-hitting questions, coverage of exclusively those words would seem just as selective as the criminal prosecutions against political opponents.

Is it worth investing in gold?, the television channel asked on one of the days when the mounting scandal and unequivocal statements of concern about selective prosecutions were totally ignored on UTV-1. Absolutely no idea, and another question seems far more pertinent to all our lives. Would it not be wise for the PACE and other European structures to closely follow which of their words are covered and distorted by the State-owned television channel of the country presently chairing the CE Committee of Ministers?

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