ATN: Prosecutor finds no proof of pressure from local authorities
In Kharkiv three TV channels – ATN and two channels which broadcast ATN news – Fora and A/TVK – remain off air. The situation is of great concern since ATN news broadcasts are extremely popular in Kharkiv and provide hard-hitting questions and critical reports about the activities of the local authorities. The channels have accused Mayor Kernes [from the Party of the Regions] of direct involvement in the developments. He denies this however concern has also been expressed by Stop Censorship and other media organizations, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the OSCE Media Representative and many others.
The President’s Administration has posted a report about Tuesday’s meeting of the Inter-Departmental Group on Observance of Legislation on Freedom of Speech and Protection of Journalists’ Rights which considered the situation around the removal from air of TV channel ATN and incidents at the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko. Since the report leaves a lot of information to be desired, further information in italic is provided either by the translator or [regarding Tuesday’s meeting] from a report at Telekritika. The Inter-Departmental Group is to speak about ATN at the next meeting as well, with both sides invited to attend. At the meeting on Tuesday, only one side, represented by the Mayor of Kharkiv’s Deputy on Legal Accompaniment, Marina Stomatina, was present.
Deputy to the Prosecutor General, Viktor Zanfirov stated that the President had instructed the Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO] to study the situation with ATN. He said that the television channel had unregulated problems with the Sanitary Hygiene Service in Kharkiv. “Contentious issues should be resolved in accordance with current legislation by the economic parties in the courts”.
Viktoria Syumar, Executive Director of the Institute for Mass Information, spoke of the need to adopt a law on transparency of media ownership and self-regulation of the market.
The Inter-Departmental Group decided to return to the subject at its next meeting in November, this time inviting representatives of the channel and the Kharkiv city authorities.
Both Ms Stomatina and the representatives of the MIA insisted that this was a business conflict between private media owners which needed to be resolved through the courts.
The Prosecutor’s representative also said that they had found no evidence of interference by the city authorities. He said that nobody had been able to provide documentary confirmation of such interference.
Ms Stomatina insisted that the city authorities were not involved.
She did not, however, see fit to inform those gathered that she had a conflict of interests since she is one of the owners of Tonis Centre which was broadcasting until August on Channel 7 together with ATN. This was pointed out by the RWB in Ukraine representative, Oksana Romanyuk. It is worth noting that as accusations that Mayor Kernes is applying pressure on channels critical of him, there are also assertions that there is conflict of interest in his case since he and his wife are major share holders in the main rival channel which Ms Stomatina also owns shares in. ].
The meeting also discussed incidents on 6-7 July in the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv during the trial of former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. As reported at the time, there were a number of complaints of violent treatment of journalists endeavouring to cover the trial.
A Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson stated that they had received reports of only two incidents. He was reminded by Oksana Romanyuk from Reports Without Borders in Ukraine that there had been an open appeal by journalists over the incidents. The spokesperson, Oleh Tatarov promised to study these and report back at the next meeting.
As reported, on 13 September the staff of TV ATN made public an open letter to the President in which they accused the Mayor of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes of “unprecedented pressure” and abuse of his official position. This, they said, had led to the channel being deprived of its ability to broadcast.
On 14 September the channel A/TVK stopped being broadcast, and the channel Fora which had previously had its broadcasting time reduced to 6 hours a day, was removed from air completely. Both channels broadcast ATN news.
The Director of Ukrainian Digital Communications, Maxim Tsyan, which provides the signal, asserted that A/TVK had been removed because of problems with documentation, while Fora supposedly was 36 thousand UAH in arrears, and had a problem with the contract.
ATN asserts that the Mayor is putting pressure on the Kharkiv Sanitary Hygiene Station, the Kharkiv
Regional TV and Radio Broadcasting Centre and the providers Datagrup and Velkom Telecom.
The Kharkiv Sanitary Hygiene Station has denied that any pressure has been brought to bear.
Gennady Kernes himself has asked the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech to investigate and denies any pressure on his part. He has previously claimed that ATN’s statement was the result of a political commission and calls the situation a business issue.