Independent TV station under increasing threat


  Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern at the constant harassment of the privately-owned national television station TVi. Despite the dropping of tax evasion charges against its chief executive several months ago, the station is under greater threat than ever.

On 5 September, Ukraine’s main satellite TV package,  Volia, dropped TVi from its standard service. The station is now only available to viewers who subscribe to the most expensive package. This means TVi will have lost a large number of viewers. The standard service, which costs 25 grivnas (about 2.5 euros) per month, has 250, 000 subscribers, compared with 78, 000 who have signed up to the “Volia Vsesvit” package costing 80 grivnas (about 8 euros) per month.

The official reason given by Volia is technical requirements imposed by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council linked to the move to digital broadcasting. However, it is not an isolated incident. In recent weeks,  TVi has been abruptly dropped from other satellite TV packages.

In late July, the Triolan cable network stopped retransmitting it “for technical reasons”, making it unavailable to more than 200, 000 residents in 11 major cities. According to its management,  TVihas lost a third of its audience since the start of summer. No other station has suffered similar action. TVi, one of the last national broadcasters to carry out investigative programs critical of the authorities, was among the stations that lost out in the disputed allocation of digital frequenciesa year ago.

“We are struck by the number of such incidents that have built up in the past few weeks, ” Reporters Without Borders said. “While the Ukrainian media are more polarised than ever in the run-up to the elections on 28 October, this litany of misfortunes raises questions.

“It is all the more serious since diversity in the broadcasting sector is already highly restricted. We note that during 2011 the independent stations Fora and A/TVK in the city of Kharkiv were taken off the air and similar problems affected Krug TV in Odessa.

“Against this background, we urge the authorities in the interests of diversity in news and information to take legal steps and concrete action as quickly as possible and restore some balance to the broadcasting sector. Failure to act on their part would inevitably be seen as an admission of responsibility for the problems encountered by independent and opposition stations.”

Reporters Without Borders backs the call by TVi journalists and their supporters to hold demonstrations in a number of major Ukrainian cities tomorrow. In Kiev, the protest will be held from midday in Mykhaylovska Square.

In late July, the Kiev public prosecutor ordered the closure of an investigation into Mykola Knyazhytskiy, chief executive of TVi (also a parliamentary candidate on the list of the United Opposition party of Yulia Timoshenko). The prosecutor ruled that it did not have sufficient legal basis. However, the case against the station is still under way and the next hearing is due on 13 September.

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