Cabinet of Ministers “fights terrorism” to intimidate the media


  Roman Kabachiy from the Institute for Mass Information writes that on the eve of the elections, the government has found a new main problem.

As reported here, on 12 September the Cabinet of Ministers issued Directive No. 672 in which it calls on the SBU [Security Service] with the help of the Interior Ministry and other ministries and departments to step up measures against “terrorism”. A full translation of this worrying document can be found here

Roman Kabachiy also points to dangers in this short document.

“The document recommends ensuring a number of actions by the SBU “with the participation of the Interior Ministry; the Defence Ministry; the Emergencies Ministry; the State TV and Radio Broadcasting Committee, others directly engaged in the fight against terrorism”.  Wow, it turns out that the State Broadcasting Council is also entirely and directly involved in that “fight”!

What is involved in the first instance is “coverage in the media of measures implementing state policy on fighting terrorism in order to form a negative attitude among the public to terrorist activity in all its forms and manifestations”.

In the history of our closest CIS neighbours Russia and Belarus, such a “negative attitude” has already been developed. First when buildings fell in Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 (- as the result of explosives left in the basements.  Alexander Litvinenko who was murdered in 2006 alleged that this was the work of the Russian Security Service – translator). It was then that Putin was brought out as saviour form terrorism and “leader of the nation”.

Journalists and human rights activists who tried to get to the truth about that ended up dead.

In Belarus after the unprecedented collapse of the Belarusian rouble a bomb exploded in a Minsk subway station in April 2011.  Two young men were executed to ensure silence.”

The author points out that there have been dozens of victims of terrorist acts both in Russia, and in Belarus, and asks whether it was information about state policy on fighting terrorism that developed a negative attitude, or the terrorist acts themselves.

He mentions recent explosions in Makiyivka and Dnipropetrovsk which also formed such a negative attitude, thus far without the loss of life.

He then mentions something more interesting.  The Cabinet of Ministers is demanding from the SBU, State Broadcasting Committee and others “timely identification and prevention of the circulation of material containing calls to violent change, the overthrow of the constitutional order; seizure of state power; to encroachments on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability; with incitement to national, racial or religious enmity and hatred; to the carrying out of terrorist acts and actions which threaten public order; as well as material promoting racial, national or religious intolerance and discrimination”.

Can the opposition slogan “We’ll stop them!” be considered a call to seize state power?  Institute for Mass Information lawyer Roman Holovenko thinks not since these are the slogans that election campaigns are made of. 

Serhiy Huz from the Independent Media Union of Ukraine agrees, He points out that each nation has the right to stand up against tyranny, and that the media are obliged to cover what is happening, even if that includes calls to overthrow the regime.

Tatyana Kotyuzhynska, President of the Association of Media Lawyers does not believe that the Cabinet of Ministers has the authority to pass such directives.  She notes that there are relevant judgements by the Supreme Court which state that people cannot be held liable for circulating material, nor can issue of a publication be suspended if a court has not convicted them to preparing the relevant material.

The author writes that while this directive is in force, suspicions must arise that it will be used with a selective interpretation.  Serhiy Tomilenko from the National Union of Journalists calls it a “suspiciously vague, unclear and non-specific act and the likelihood of its use when it suits can free the hands of controlling structures”  He warns that with its present wording, the directive could be used against a large number of publications.  The timing, just before elections, can also not fail to rouse suspicion among the public.

The author points to selective use of such norms against specific media publications in previous years and mentions a case already reported.

A court recently suspended issue of the Irpin (Kyiv oblast) newspaper Osobysty Pohlyad [Personal View], fully allowing the suit brought against the newspaper by Dmytro Voitsenko, currently both a deputy of the Irpin Council and a parliamentary candidate for single-mandate electoral district No. 65.  The court found that the information published in an article on 3 June was defamatory and untruthful and that the actions of the editorial board were a flagrant violation of the above-mentioned law.  The article talked about leaflets with campaigning against Voitsek which somebody had circulated in Irpin. The leaflets showed the deputy in a Nazi uniform and the text below said that Voitsek had “betrayed the Party of the Regions”. The leaflet was published as an illustration to an article which considered who could have ordered the leaflets and why they should resort to such dirty tactics.

“The fact that such a directive appeared without public discussion and without, let’s be open about it, an overt terrorist threat for Ukraine, makes one wary.”  This is only exacerbated by the adoption in its first reading of a bill aimed at recriminalizing defamation (on 18 September). 

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