Legislative media threats during election campaign
Mykola Tomenko, First Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada is proposing to create a Public Council attached to the Central Election Commission [CEC]. This would, for example, revolve contentious issues concerning the media during the election campaign. Specialists believe that current legislation makes such issues inevitable.
According to member of the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech, Andriy Shevchenko a number of articles of the Law on the Parliamentary Elections are equivocal and can be interpreted in different ways. This creates certain risks for the media.
Article 74 § 11 allows the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council to suspend a channel or radio station’s broadcasting.
“The National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council shall through its decision suspend transmission on Ukrainian territory including by telecommunications operations of foreign TV channels whose activities infringe the norm on prohibition by foreign nationals or stateless persons of election campaigning via journalist activities, or whose activities involve calls to the liquidation of Ukraine’s independence, a change in the constiutitonal order through violent means, violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; the undermining of its security; unlawful seizure of power; propaganda of war; violence and incitement to inter-ethnic, racial, national, religious enmity; encroachment on the rights and freedoms of a person or the health of the population”.
Andriy Shevchenko says that they have always insisted that “such radical decisions may only be taken by the court. It is clearly a pretty risky position when we trust seven officials to take decisions at their own discretion on suspending the work of a TV or radio broadcaster”.
Shevchenko also envisages problems arising from the Article of the Law about a party’s symbols and logo being regarded as political advertising which can only be published in the media for payment.
“A creative official or judge can, if they wish, treat a party logo during a TV news broadcast as political advertising which should have been paid for. And if it wasn’t, that means that there could be certain penalties.”
The restriction in Article 72 § 9 stating that for 20 minutes before and after a TV or radio broadcast of political campaigning material, parites are prohbited from in any way commenting on the same channel or station, or assessing the content of the election campaigning programme, the actions of the party, parliamentary candidates, is also of concern.
“The media always has big problems with this. How do you cover a meeting of the head of the regional administration or, say, a minister who have not yet decided whether or not to take leave?”
Mykola Tomenko believes that there should be a Public Council to resolve these and other contentious issues and equivocal points in legislation. Such a Public Council could protect the media from selective application of legislation. If a channel refuses to take political advertising, whether because of infringements in content or because it’s anti-advertising directly commissioned, the Council would be able to swiftly respond. The law states that only parties or candidates can commission political advertising. There are also strict requirements about how big the notification is on the screen etc of the commissioning person’s full name etc.
Ihor Zhydenko from the CEC says that the CEC has few levels of influence and that this applies not only to protecting the media. He says that simply to hold the elections, the CEC will have to exceed its legislative powers.
“The only thing that the CEC can do is to send information to the law enforcement bodies, therefore you shouldn’t overestimate what we can do. One way or another journalists must fight for their own rights, and not rely on help from the CEC or anybody else”.
The Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech Yury Stets agrees, and says that the journalists should record the information and circulate it, also informing trade unions and other professional organizations. They do however promise to create mobile groups to defend regional journalists. They will be made up of deputies, journalists and members of civic organizations.