Regions Party again using highly specific methods in preparation for future elections
In an article published on 12 July on Ukrainska Pravda, Serhiy Leshchenko suggests that the Party of the Regions have begun preparing themselves for the 2012 parliamentary elections, using very specific means. If the form allegedly sent around is not a fake, then this time their aim would seem to be specifically journalists, with information sought about the political preferences of representatives of the media.
In September 2010, less than 2 months before the local elections which were criticized as a retreat from democracy both in Ukraine and abroad, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union pointed out similar methods (The government is preparing for the elections – collecting information about everyone, and more details in No room for democracy?)
Ukrainska Pravda says that it received a copy of the relevant letter and form from a source within the Party of the Regions which it does not name. The circular is addressed to the heads of regional organizations of the Party of the Regions, with the central office asking local branches to send information about journalists in the area under their jurisdiction with details about their political preferences.
The letter reads:
“On the instruction of the party’s leadership.. in order to achieve high-quality preparation for the media campaign covering the 2012 parliamentary elections, the regional branch of the Party of the Regions must provide by 11 July 2011 to the central office of the Party of the Regions a completed media card for the region. The form for the media card is enclosed”. The name at the bottom is that of (the MP and) Head of the Department of Communications of the Party of the Regions Central Office, Olena Bondarenko.
The appendix gives instructions on what information should be filled in by the regional branches. They should provide not just general information about the local media – print run, rating of a local TV channel, address and contact number, but also the party affiliation of the owner, manager and chief editor. The form also contains the following questions:
Are there journalists loyal to our ideology?
What is the ideological direction of the journalist team?
Have their been any conflicts with our regional party branch?
Serhiy Leshchenko writes that the sheer scale of preparation to the elections hits one in the eye, and asks bemused questions about how this information is to be used.
Most importantly, he points out that this is a direct violation of Article 7 of the Law on Personal Data Protection, which specifically prohibits, among other things, processing personal data pertaining to people’s political affiliations.
One of those who voted for the Law on Personal Data Protection (which, for other reasons, media, human rights and business organizations were unanimous in criticizing – translator) was Olena Bondarenko. Ukrainska Pravda turned to her, asking about the letter and form. She confirmed the existence of the letter, but claimed that the list of details about media outlets was a fake.
Serhiy Leshchenko decided to check this. He phoned at random four regional branches of the Party of the Regions and began the conversation with the words: “Hello, I’m ringing from Kyiv and want to find out whether the media card is ready”.
He says that the words “from Kyiv” had a hypnotic effect and nobody thought to ask where exactly he was ringing from. From the answers, received in branches from eastern and western regions, it was clear that yes, they do indicate media outlets’ party allegiance, , and party direction. Where possible, they said, they gave this information.
Serhiy Leshchenko also expresses surprise at the status of the person signing the letter, with Olena Bondarenko apparently combining her duties as first deputy chair of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech with the role of head of the Party of the Regions Department of Communications.
“On the one hand Bondarenko as the second person in the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech should defend journalists – including from party censorship.
On the other – as a party functionary she should ensure the effective propaganda of her political party. By means of those same journalists.”