Cleansing of the media space continues
Demonstration in support of TVi in Kyiv, 8 September 2012
On August 3 at the opening of the World Newspaper Congress in Kyiv a number of Ukrainian journalists of the “Stop Censorship!” movement held an act of protest against the obstruction of freedom of speech in Ukraine as a result of which law enforcers applied physical force wresting the placards from the hands of demonstrators. This week the wave of shutting down the opposition TV channel TBi, which is supported by Ukraine’s largest cable TV operator Volia Cable, continued. These events were testimony to the continuation of the alarming trend of limitation of freedom of speech and the access of citizens to objective and unbiased information.
What did the incident at the World Newspaper Congress demonstrate?
What can ТВі and its viewers expect?
The situation with the journalists’ act of protest and attempts to quell it during the opening of the World Newspaper Congress was a very clear demonstration of the current state of affairs in the relations between bodies of the ruling power and representatives of the media in Ukraine.
On the one hand, journalists waving placards during the address of President Viktor Yanukovych was totally justified as over the past two years the restriction of freedom of speech in Ukraine is evident: the absolute majority of TV channels and many printed publications have been openly distorting information in favor of the ruling power and the number of incidents of the government applying physical force against independent journalists and publications such as TBi and Liviy Bereh (Left Bank) has sharply risen and gone totally unpunished.
On the other hand, the reaction of representatives of the government to such a peaceful form of protest clearly demonstrated not only its unwillingness to rectify the current situation, but also its aspiration to eliminate any manifestations of protest moods through the use of force and demonstrate this to journalists in other countries of the world.
The inconsistent behavior of the State Security Service (SBU), which was accused of applying force against journalists, proved that the ruling power cannot accept objective criticism. Initially, the state guards denied that they wrested the placards from protesting journalists and then they tried to justify their actions arguing that they confiscated knives and slingshots from journalists participating in the congress. Be that as it may, the security forces could not explain the connection between confiscation of lethal objects that journalists tried bringing into the congress and wresting their placards.
President Yanukovych once again demonstrated his indifference to the problems with freedom of speech by not batting an eyelash to the protests of journalists during his address. He also did not react at the closing of the congress, thus confirming the unwillingness of Ukraine’s head of state to objectively assess the state of affairs in Ukraine with the issue of freedom of speech.
Accordingly, hoping that the Presidential Administration will take any steps towards organizing dialog with representatives of the media is in vain. The Inter-departmental Working Group for the Analysis of the State of Compliance to Legislation on Freedom of Speech and the Protection of Journalists’ Rights under the auspices of the president currently functions as a screen for an offensive against freedom of speech, which is why the promises of the head of the working group Darka Chepak that she will deal with the incident during the newspaper congress are most likely none other than empty statements.
Last bastion of hope
The disappointing trends in the sphere of freedom of speech were supplemented by a new wave when TV viewers were deprived of the possibility of watching TBi, the only independent national TV channel in Ukraine. On August 31 the general director of the largest cable TV operator in Ukraine Volia Cable informed that TBi would be switch from social packages to an expanded package for 2-3 times the price.
According to information of a journalist of TBi Mustafa Nayyem, this means only 78, 000 of the 236, 000 subscribers that signed up for the expanded package offered by Volia will be able to watch the channel in Kyiv. And although the management of the operator attributes the tariff hikes to strictly marketing strategy, journalists suspect that such a decision was the result of the pressure applied by the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council.
Such an assumption is substantiated given the exclusion of TBi from tariff plans all across Ukraine. According to the Internet publication Telekritika, more than 80 cable networks in different regions of the country made such a decision over the past two months, not to mention the fact that members of the government are totally denying such accusations and turning a blind eye to the escalation of the process of the channel’s shutdown on the eve of the parliamentary elections, the recently opened case against the channel’s General Director Mykola Knyazhytskiy was closed and his decision to run in the elections on the opposition Batkivshchyna party ballot clearly shows that the shutting down of TBi was ordered.
The fact that the majority of providers cannot explain why TBi was shut down is indirect testimony to this. Indeed, on September 5 the general director of the Triolan operator, who was the first to switch TBi to different channels, said the channel could have been shut down for diversion on the initiative of its journalists or representatives of political opposition forces.
The latest version expressed by representatives of Triolan in an attempt to explain its actions is quite paradoxical: earlier it laid all the blame for the shutting down of TBi on a number of its technicians. Be that as it may, Triolan could not explain why the channel did not return to the airwaves.
The new version that it shut itself down is inane and looks like a blatantly unsuccessful attempt to put the responsibility on the shoulders of the victim. The most alarming aspect in this situation is that this is how Triolan openly backed the ruling power, which is testimony to the dependence of its providers on government structures. It is highly probable that there is a similar situation with other operators that decided to exclude TBi from its packages.
As such, the protest of journalists and the harsh reaction of the SBU during the address of President Yanukovych at the opening of the World Newspaper Congress clearly demonstrated the poignancy of the problem of compliance with freedom of speech and the rights of journalists in Ukraine.
The lack of reaction of the head of state to this incident confirmed the unwillingness of the ruling power to heed the critical observations of representatives of the journalist community. Another testimony to the alarming trend of eliminating freedom of speech was the shutting down of the independent TV channel TBim which was cut off from the base package of Ukraine’s largest cable TV operator Volia Cable. There is almost no doubt that the reason for this was the pressure applied by bodies of state power, which are trying to deprive Ukrainian TV viewers access to objective and balanced information on the eve of the parliamentary elections.